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Rio+20: ICRC voices grave concern over weapon contamination

13-06-2012 News Release 12/117

Brasilia (ICRC) – At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, the International Committee of the Red Cross has sounded the alarm about the damage caused by weapon contamination worldwide.

Unexploded munitions and other explosive remnants of war kill and maim in cities and countryside, while wreaking havoc with economic and social development. In addition to leaving physical and psychological scars, they contribute to the destruction of the environment by contaminating the soil and water, destroying fauna and flora, and undermining the sustainable use of natural resources. This scourge affects over 40 per cent of the countries in which the ICRC works.

“Weapon contamination: environmental destruction and human suffering” is the theme of an ICRC stand in Athletes Park, Rio de Janeiro. From 13 to 24 June, the stand will host a photo exhibition and provide documents and videos. The ICRC will also give a presentation on “the consequences of weapon contamination for sustainable development” at an event held in connection with the Third Preparatory Meeting for the Conference, at the Riocentro Convention Centre on 14 June (1.30 p.m., Room T-5).

“Weapon contamination constitutes an ongoing security threat to entire communities. It prevents people from cultivating their fields and cuts them off from food and clean water,” said Felipe Donoso, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. “In high-risk areas, it also hinders the delivery of basic services such as medical care and education, and makes it even harder to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid.”

To address the humanitarian consequences of weapon contamination, the ICRC has set up a unit in charge of collecting information on the dangers facing people in affected areas and carrying out awareness-raising programmes to reduce those dangers. In some cases, ICRC teams remove unexploded munitions to ensure that essential buildings and infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools and water-pumping stations, can be used safely. This facilitates post-conflict rehabilitation and the resumption of basic services.

The ICRC is working to reduce the dangers of weapon contamination in countries that have been at peace for decades, such as Laos, and others where armed conflict has only recently ended, such as Iraq and Libya. For instance, the ICRC has destroyed or neutralized over 6,500 explosive devices in Libya since early 2011. Together with the Libyan Red Crescent, it also runs awareness-raising programmes in the country.

For further information, please contact:
Sandra Lefcovich, ICRC Brasilia, tel: +55 61 81 75 15 99