New York, April 18 : On the eve of the Global Day of Action to Ban Cluster Bombs, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report calling the impact of cluster munitions on civilians a blow to development and urging the international community to support a comprehensive treaty that decisively and effectively bans the use of cluster munitions.
"We are concerned about cluster munitions, both as a threat to the lives of innocent civilians and as a major obstacle to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals," said UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert.
The report, Prohibiting Cluster Munitions: Our Chance to Protect Civilians, not only outlines the threats these weapons pose to civilian security and economic development, but also highlights ongoing efforts to clear lands that have been littered with hundreds of thousands of unexploded bomblets.
"Cluster munitions are insidious weapons that litter fields and farm land, homes and gardens, posing a long-term threat to the very lives and livelihoods of civilians," said Kathleen Cravero, Director of UNDP's Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery. Cravero urged governments to join negotiations to establish a new international treaty banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
The negotiations, to be held next month in Dublin, are the culmination of a year-long process to conceive a global convention prohibiting the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. The ultimate aim is to gain support from governments to ratify the resulting treaty.
Cluster munitions pose a great threat to civilian security, rights and economic development. Yet a legally binding treaty addressing the horrendous effects of these weapons -while prohibiting their use, production, stockpiling and transfer- remains conspicuously absent.
And without such an instrument of international humanitarian law, the proliferation of cluster munitions remains unchecked.
When launched, cluster munitions disperse large numbers of sub munitions over areas that can be the size of four football fields. These bomblets are usually designed to explode upon impact, but they often fail to do so, rendering the contaminated land unstable for civilian use. The rate at which cluster bombs fail to explode upon impact makes them particularly lethal to civilians, whose homes and communities are turned into de facto minefields. Conservative estimates set failure rates at five percent, but in reality they are much higher.
As cluster munitions are often shaped like balls and canisters or are unusually shaped and brightly coloured, children are at particular risk. In fact, one-third of all reported cluster bomb casualties are children. In Vietnam, more than thirty years after the conflict, recent data reveals that children make up an estimated 62 percent of casualties.
Globally, cluster munitions have caused over 13,000 confirmed injuries and deaths, the vast majority of which are concentrated in five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon and Viet Nam. In addition to claiming casualties, cluster munitions contribute to household food insecurity by contaminating arable land and killing livestock. They create health and hygiene problems by blocking access to shelter, water and sanitation; exacerbate poverty and present barriers to economic recovery and development.
UNDP has contributed to the demining effort, helping countries clear land that can be used once again for agriculture, grazing or other purpose. In the last ten years, the equivalent of more than 10,000 football fields has been cleared of unexploded cluster bomblets.
Yet, according to "Prohibiting Cluster Munitions: Our Chance to Protect Civilians," more than 30 years after they were dropped, cluster munitions are still being cleared in parts of Southeast Asia, an ongoing obstacle to vital development projects. The report also notes that billions of cluster sub-munitions are currently stockpiled by more than 70 countries worldwide. Acting now to stop the further production, stockpiling, proliferation and use of these weapons will prevent even worse problems in the future.
"I know from the experience of my own country, Cote d'Ivoire, how terrible war can be for individuals, families and communities," said Chelsea football star Didier Drogba, a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador. "For people who are injured or killed by unexploded cluster bombs, or who live in poverty because they cannot farm their land, it is as though the war never ended."