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INEW: Documenting two years of global harm to civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (2021-2022)

A new report released today by the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) presents data on the patterns of harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In 2021 and 2022, at least 32,136 civilian casualties were reported across 71 countries and territories, with an 83% increase in civilian casualties caused by explosive weapons in 2022 compared to 2021. During the same period, 1,158 reported incidents of explosive weapon use affected access to healthcare, education, and humanitarian aid in 40 countries and territories.

The data, collected by INEW member organizations Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and Insecurity Insight, highlights the ongoing harm to civilians from explosive weapons in urban areas such as Gaza City in 2021 and Ukraine in 2022. The report illustrates the complexity of identifying the full scope of harm to civilians and the ways in which different patterns of harm overlap.

In response to this growing concern, the recently adopted Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas provides a framework for collaboration among civil society, international organizations, and other stakeholders. Endorsed by 83 states, the declaration aims to improve policies and practices, strengthen civilian protection, and gradually move away from bombing and shelling in urban and other populated areas.

The declaration’s data collection provisions can help establish norms and good practices for recording not only deaths and injuries from explosive weapon use but also broader economic and social impacts. This documentation serves as an evidential basis for harm reduction that can inform operational changes and responses, fulfilling a moral obligation to recognize victims of armed conflict.

AOAV data from 2021 and 2022 shows that at least 32,136 civilian casualties were reported across 71 countries and territories. Insecurity Insight recorded 1,158 reported incidents of explosive weapon use affecting access to healthcare, education, and humanitarian aid in 40 countries and territories during the same period.

Fighting in urban areas and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has heightened the risk to civilians. In 2022, AOAV recorded an 83% increase in civilian casualties caused by explosive weapons compared to 2021, mainly due to the emergence of armed conflict in Ukraine and escalating conflicts in Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Somalia.

Explosive weapons with wide area effects cause high levels of death and injury to civilians when used in populated areas, resulting in a predictable pattern of harm. AOAV data from 2021 and 2022 reveals that 90% of those killed and injured by explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians.

Indirect effects of explosive weapons, resulting from damage to civilian infrastructure, also cause significant harm. In 2021 and 2022, at least 768 incidents of explosive weapon use affected access to healthcare, 301 incidents affected education, and 195 incidents affected humanitarian aid. Incidents in Ukraine, Myanmar, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Syria, and Ethiopia illustrate the various ways civilians suffer from explosive weapon use and the challenges in identifying the full scope of harm.

The report underscores the urgent need for the international community to mitigate the risk to civilians, take steps to prevent harm caused by explosive weapons, and provide necessary assistance to victims and survivors.