International oil companies (IOCs) in Iraq have stepped up efforts to clear the country of millions of landmines, but according to Reuters progress remains slow due to security constraints.
According to its demining plan, Iraq is supposed to clear 2 percent of its contaminated land this year but has already hit 5 percent thanks to oil firms, which have brought in experts to clear mines to allow them to work more safely in oilfields.
“It’s been a great move towards implementing our program. Without oil, 50 years or 100 years would not be enough for Iraq to clear mines,” Deputy Environment Minister Kamal Hussein Latif said on Tuesday.
Landmines are seen as a major threat to Iraq’s goal of rebuilding its war-ravaged economy and infrastructure by climbing into the top echelon of global oil producers. The government has signed a series of deals with oil majors to develop its reserves, which are among the world’s largest.
Decades of war have left Iraq with one of the worst mine problems in the world, according to UNICEF, with around 20 million anti-personnel mines and more than 50 million cluster bombs believed to remain in border areas and southern oilfields.
Mines are among the major hurdles faced by oil firms working fields like Majnoon and West Qurna in southern Iraq.
The Iraqi government is supposed to clear all minefields by February 2018 in line with its obligations under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Latif said Iraq has yet to clear 10 percent and he was hopeful it might complete 70 percent by 2018.
“The clearance is very slow due to security constraints,” Daniel Augstburger, chief humanitarian affairs officer at the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), said on Tuesday. The U.N.’s global Mine Action Day was held on Monday.
Latif said oil companies were bringing more demining specialists to Iraq to clear landmines, most of which were planted during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and during Iraq’s invasion of neighbouring Kuwait in 1990.
The government has only 2,000 deminers and only 13 local and foreign private firms are working on demining, officials said.
“We need hundreds of (demining) companies because to clear Iraq of mines for the coming 10 years, I need 19,000 deminers,” Latif said.
An estimated 1,730 million square metres of Iraqi land are contaminated by mines, according to the U.N.
Around 8,000 people, including 2,000 children, were killed or wounded by the unexploded cluster bombs between 2005 and 2010, UNICEF said in a statement.