Why you should care
Even when the bombing stops on the ground, people will be in mortal danger.
Shah Nawaz is 28 years old and has spent two years in the Nasaji refugee camp in Kabul. Originally from nearby Kapisa province, he now provides for nine people — including seven children — despite an arm permanently injured in a U.S. drone strike.
“We just want to go back to our homes. We dont ask for much, but this war has made our lives impossible and has torn apart our community.” he says. “We cant go home due to the risk of drones, but after so many years of war, our community is now at war with itself - there doesnt seem to be any end to bloodshed.”
Nawaz is one of at least 2.6 million internally displaced people due to the violence in Afghanistan, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). In Kabul alone, there are at least 50 camps, and that number is growing rapidly. Afghans are being deported steadily from Pakistan, Europe and elsewhere — another 700,000 returnees or deportees from Iran are expected by the end of 2019 — and many will have nowhere to turn but their own villages, where unexploded bombs often remain in the aftermath of years of fighting.
Civilian deaths are on the rise in Afghanistan, with such casualties increasing 27 percent from the first to the second quarter of 2019. The first six months of 2019 saw deaths and injuries of civilians by pro-government forces (aka the U.S. military and the Afghan army) rise 31 percent from the same period in 2018. But it’s not just direct bombings and attacks that are killing people. In fact:
At least 1,426 people were killed or injured by explosive remnants of war (ERW) in 2018 — and 82 percent of them were children.
That’s according to Mohammad Wakil Jamshidi, deputy program manager at United Nations Mines Action Service or UNMAS. Within the raging war and pitched battles throughout the country between ISKP, the Taliban and Afghan forces backed up by the US military, an enormous number of bombs and other munitions, like mortars, IEDs or bullets are left behind unexploded.
According to recent data released by UNMAS,” humanitarian mine action actors have cleared more than 18 million items of ERW” since 1989.
“We have cleared almost all of the ERWs left behind by the Soviets and the regimes that came after,” says Jamshidi. “But due to the ongoing fighting, even if the peace deal between the Taliban, the USA and the Afghan government were to happen tomorrow, civilians will continue to die for decades to come due to the amount of unexploded weapons of war left behind.”
Afghanistan isn’t the only country that’s seen such ordnance take its toll. War in Vietnam ended more than four decades ago, but MAG International, a charity that attempts to dispose of leftover weapons of war, estimates that there are still 800,000 tons of unexploded bombs in the country.
The most vulnerable people in Afghanistan are those returning home to areas where fighting has ended, according to Jamshidi. “The Internally displaced Afghans (IDPs) will face the most danger once this war come to an end. Most of these IDPs haven’t been to their villages in decades now and are not familiar with these ordinances, especially children.” Nawaz’s ambition to return home could be a deadly one.
Just weeks before the UNAMA report was released in July — after startling UN reports on Afghanistan indicated a 39 percent rise in civilian victims of airstrikes between 2017 and 2018 — the Trump administration also rolled back an Obama-era Executive Order to account for civilian casualties in American military and CIA led airstrikes. That means the data will no longer be publicly delivered — or even collected — on those who may fall victims to the unexploded bombs still on the ground.