AOAV has been monitoring the impacts of explosive weapons, both manufactured and improvised, around the world for the last three years.
Our data—that spans from 2011 to 2013—highlights the harm caused by explosive weapons when used in populated areas.[i]
Manufactured explosive weapons are commercially-produced conventional ordnance. They can be deployed from the air or surface-level, and range in size and power from hand grenades to massive aircraft bombs and multiple rocket launchers. They can be used by both state and non-state forces, although governments claim a monopoly over the legal use of explosive force.
Impact on civilians
Manufactured explosive weapons (MEW) caused 35,341 recorded casualties between 2011 and 2013. Of these, 72% were civilians (25,326).
When used in populated areas, 88% of casualties were civilians, compared to 24% in other areas.
Over the three years it became more and more usual for the likes of artillery shells and aircraft bombs to be reported in populated areas (from 59% of incidents to 67%). This increase was matched by the increasing proportion of resulting casualties who were civilians, trying to go about their daily lives amid the heavy shelling and rocket fire (64% in 2011 up to 77% in 2013).
One striking example was the persistent use of MEW in and around marketplaces. Incidents were recorded by AOAV in 14 different countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia, causing over 1,000 civilian casualties.
The six top countries, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan all had over 1,000 civilian casualties.
Since 2011 an increasingly brutal and desperate civil war has been waged in Syria, dominated by the use of heavy explosive weapons in towns and cities. Almost half of the global casualties from 2011-2013 from MEW were in Syria (45%). This would likely be higher if the full scale of civilian suffering could be recorded by our methodology.
It is not however, a problem purely confined to Syria. The years before our dataset began saw similarly high casualty numbers in the likes of Iraq and Sri Lanka, while 2014 has seen new crises emerging in Gaza and Ukraine, among others.
From 2011-2013, AOAV recorded casualty from manufactured explosive weapons in 64 countries, with 58 seeing at least one civilian death or injury.
Mortars were the single MEW weapon type that caused the most civilian casualties (4,719). Of these 92 per cent of casualties were civilians.
The highest average number of civilian casualties were caused by ballistic missiles (46), enormous and extremely powerful long-range weapons that are mercifully rarely used. From 2011-2013, all cases of known ballistic missile fire took place in Syria.
While grenades were the most regularly-reported distinct MEW type (667 separate incidents recorded), they did not have the same severity of impact on civilians as larger and more destructive weapons. It is very unlikely for a grenade attack to result in a civilian death (0.5 fatalities per incident). By comparison, three civilians are killed on average per mortar incident, and five are killed in artillery or tank shelling incidents.
Civilian casualties came more from ground-launched weapons like mortars, multiple rocket launchers and heavy artillery systems (53%), than from aerially-deployed weapons (43%).[ii]
Again, the connection with the use of these weapons in populated areas is clear. It was far more likely for government militaries in particular to use ground-launched explosive weapons in populated areas (72% of incidents), than to carry out air strikes in these conditions (44% of air strikes were reported in populated areas.)
States caused 57% of the civilian casualties from manufactured explosive weapons. The other cases are made up of known non-state actors, typically using grenades or mortars, or are incidents where AOAV could not tell who was behind an attack.
Thirty different states have used explosive weapons in the last three years, in addition to four countries where multinational coalitions were active (Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya and Somalia). Civilian casualties were recorded in 26 of these countries.[iii]
The ten countries most-affected by state use alone were Syria, Libya, Gaza, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, Yemen.
Read AOAV’s annual reports on the impact of explosive violence:
AOAV uses an incident-based methodology to record casualties (deaths and injuries) reported in English-language media-sources. No claims are made that every casualty or incident of explosive violence worldwide are reflected in this data set. In particular, casualties from particularly heavy or sustained shelling are thought to be most underrepresented, and these attacks are especially unsuited to an incident-based methodology, which requires a clear date (under 24-hours), a defined location, and a specific number of casualties in order for an attack to be included.
Manufactured explosive weapons are commercially-produced conventional ordnance. They can be deployed from the air or surface-level, and range in size and power from hand grenades to massive aircraft bombs and multiple rocket launchers. They can be used by both state and non-state forces, although governments exert a legal monopoly over the use of explosive force.
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are weapons that are homemade or otherwise manufactured outside of the conventional arms industry. They come from a wide variety of sources, including homemade materials, diverted fertilisers, unsecured stockpiles or explosive remnants of war (ERW). IEDs range in size and power and can be victim-operated, detonated by timer, or by command, including suicide bombs.
[i] AOAV uses an incident-based methodology to record casualties (deaths and injuries) reported in English-language media-sources. No claims are made that every casualty or incident of explosive violence worldwide are reflected in this data set. The methodology is designed to capture distinct incidents of explosive violence with a clear date and location. In some contexts of explosive violence, particularly during intense armed conflict, casualties cannot be assigned to specific incidents but a total number is reported as the result of a period of days. These casualties cannot be included in the dataset. In the lifetime of this project this issue of particular relevance to the conflict in Syria, where the intensity of the violence and the restrictions of on-the-ground reporting means that many casualties from the fighting cannot be captured by an incident-based methodology.
[ii] The remaining six percent of civilian casualties were recorded in incidents where the launch method was unclear in source reporting, or where a combination of types were described without possible disaggregation.
[iii] This is in addition to attacks by ‘unknown’ state users. An ‘unknown’ state user was recorded in 38 incidents, in all cases where air strikes were reported but the state force responsible was not known or identified. These attacks were recorded in six countries, Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen.
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