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When the bombs fall silent: the reverberating effects of explosive weapons

The long-term impact of explosive violence is known to be devastating, but is still relatively poorly understood. With civilian deaths from explosive weapons increasing each year, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) conducted research into the reverberating effects of manufactured explosive weapons, so as to better understand the long-term harm from such violence. Our findings are presented here in our report: ‘When the bombs fall silent‘.

In our research, AOAV focused on two countries recovering from war.  It has been over a decade since the end of the 33-day war between Lebanon and Israel, and eight years since the cessation of conflict in Sri Lanka’s civil war. We travelled to both Lebanon and Sri Lanka, there to conduct interviews with affected civilians, academics, health professionals, NGO personnel, journalists, government representatives and other experts.

While we acknowledge that in both conflicts the violence went both ways – Israeli civilians and troops were killed, as were the Sri Lanka government’s own supporters and militaries – our focus was on the side who were subjected to the highest levels of manufactured explosive violence; in this case the residents of Southern Lebanon and North and East Sri Lanka. 

Our findings show that the scars of conflict persist, still raw, for many years. The severity of the impact of explosive violence was still evident, from buildings and infrastructure still in ruins, to persistent psychological suffering everywhere. Both countries, to different degrees, were still recovering. We found that:

  • Health services are deeply impacted by explosive violence.
    • In Sri Lanka, even now, medical facilities in the most impacted areas fail to recruit and retain qualified doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Many medics left the country during and after the conflict. 
    • In Jaffna, an area deeply impacted by the war and with a population of 600,000, there are just two psychiatrists and few support staff.
    • The exodus of health staff has created, in Sri Lanka, a challenge of caring for the elderly. The war separated families and ageing parents have neither qualified staff nor children (many of whom fled to live overseas) to look after them in their old age.
  • PTSD is widespread.
    • Of those injured by cluster bombs in Lebanon, 43% are thought to still suffer PTSD ten years later. 
    • 48% of those arriving to Sri Lanka’s outpatients’ departments are said to display symptoms of depression.
  • The destruction of civilian infrastructure has lasting impact.
    • In Sri Lanka over 350,000 homes were damaged and destroyed. Many were unable to return to their homes, either because they cannot afford to rebuild or due to explosive weapon contamination.
    • Latest figures put 73,600 people remain displaced in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
  • Long-term infrastructural damage still impacts.
    • In Lebanon damage to over 300 water and 150 sewage networks exacerbated a water crisis that continues today – one in three Lebanese now buys alternative sources of drinking water, and those who cannot afford this rely on poor-quality water.
  • Explosive violence retards economic development.
    • In Sri Lanka’s most impacted areas, for example, over 74% live below the international poverty line. Youth unemployment in key northern towns stands at 60%.
    • Subsequent loans and economic worries, particularly for Sri Lankan war widows, exacerbate psychological concerns. One estimate puts the number of female suicides at 30 a month.
  • Unexploded ordnance remains a key issue.
    • In both Lebanon and Sri Lanka, there have been hundreds of casualties from explosive remnants of war since the end of the conflicts. The contamination also prolongs displacement, prevents access to land and, through this, exacerbates poverty.
    • In Lebanon, up to 35% of the population was dependent on farming, even more so in the impacted areas of the south. 42% of land in the south was deemed contaminated by the end of the war – much remains.
  • Children are the most impacted.
    • Of the Lebanese children injured by cluster munitions, 88% were diagnosed with PTSD.
    • In Sri Lanka, those with parents lost to explosive violence or whose parents were hit by a deterioration of mental health as a consequence of the war, suffered from poor familial stability, leading to increased behavioural problems, as well as drug and alcohol consumption.
  • The long-term impact of the use of explosive weapons was most evident in populated areas.

To read the full report and AOAV’s recommendations, please see here.

For further AOAV research on the reverberating effects of explosive violence, please see here