Unexploded military ammunitions still threaten lives

In the last 20 years, 151 people have lost their lives and 851 have been injured from explosive military surplus, in a time when the danger in certain areas is still present.

Albania, a country that didn’t experience any wars in its territory in the last 75 years, today is still far from being safe from explosive military surplus ammunitions.

An investigation of the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism reveals that this danger is found in the sea and on land, where hand grenades, missiles, bombs and land mines still remain unexploded, carrying with them a serious threat, especially o the lives of the inhabitants of the nearby areas.

According to the Ministry of Defense, the problematic situation is inherited from the raiding of the arms and ammunitiondepots all over the country during the civil upheaval in 1997, unexploded remains of World War II, and also the explosive remains in the ammunition disposal sites.

One of the areas that todayis considered as one of the most problematic is the one of Jubë-Sukth in the county of Durres, which served as a training area for the Albanian Army for years, mainly ground and naval drills, but also ammunition controlled explosions.

In the area which is bordered by the Adriatic Sea in the West and by the agricultural lands of the villages Rinia, Bisht-Kamëz and Jubë in the East, there is a surface area of 938,779 square meters where the explosive remains have not been extracted, according to the Ministry of Defense.

Another dangerous area is the one near Sinanaj village in Tepelena.

In May of 2006, ammunition dismantling in a depot caused a grave accident where a corporal of the Albanian Army lost his life and three sergeants where injured. This explosion caused the contamination of 200,000 square meters of land in this area, which still remains affected by the debris.

In March of 2008, a grave tragedy occurred as a consequence of the lack of training and security conditions in exploding the ammunitions. In Gërdec, 26 people lost their lives and 300 were injured due to an explosion during the dismantling process.

The unexploded ammunitions, in the last 20 years brought to Albania a war balance, where due to their accidental ignition, 151 military personnel and civilians lost their lives and 851 others were injured.

The danger in Jubë-Sukth

The work to clean military areas from explosive ammunitions began with intensity in 2012 in some of the most difficult areas under the guidance of the Norwegian organization NPA (Norwegian People’s Aid), supported by funds of the U.S. Department of State.

Moments from the work of the Norwegian cleaning company at the Jube-Sukth Durrës hotspot.

As a consequence of this collaboration, in many of the depots and military tunnels the dismantling of dangerous ammunitions has terminated. According to the ministry, the number of dangerous areas with unexploded ammunitions is currently reduced to only 2 from the 19 identified in 2011.

One of these two areas, where the work is not yet to be finished, is the open area of Jubë-Sukth.

Map of the area

The NPA told the Center that they have finished the first phase of cleaning the area and that they will help the Albanian Army, so that it can gain the capacities and expertise for the complete clearance of the area within the year 2019.

“The working groups of NPA have found and deactivated 16,000 different types of military elements, from explosives to missiles and mortars. Furthermore, during the process of cleaning, large aerial bombs were found, some of them two meters under the ground level, and also anti-tank land mines”- the representatives of this organization said.

Moments from the work of the Norwegian cleaning company at the Jube-Sukth Durrës hotspot.

The work to completely clear this area from dangerous elements is expected to last, in a time when the contaminated land nearby is challenging and working in the rainy season is impossible.

On the other hand, this area surrounding the former shooting range is quickly being populated because it is not only close to the sea, but to the capital as well.

Redion Qiriazi, the director of the Program for Security of the Institute for Democracy and Meditation, IDM, told the Center that this area has always been considered as very important for military training, this being the reason why there weren’t any residential areas nearby.

“During the communist era, this area was conceived as a large military base and most of the houses that now surround it didn’t exist back then… The movement of the population, controlled or not, made it possible for many houses to be established near the training area, and some businesses, like the restaurants of fishermen succeeded in permeating inside it”- he emphasized.

However, except for attraction to gain profit form the sea products in this area, the scrap of military ammunitions that is found under water is becoming also a very dangerous temptation.

Arben Braha, director of the office for the Coordination of Land Mines and Ammunitions said for the Center that the collectors of the metal of ammunitions to sell it for scrap often collect these parts underwater to sell them.

“This activity is dangerous for them, that is why we have developed activities to raise awareness for the residents that live near these areas, making them aware of the potential risk”, -he stressed.

Eva Veble of the NPA (Norwegian People’s Aid) says that they continuously meet the residents of the area and advise them against touching unexploded ammunitions, against moving marked materials and entering the area. The organization has placed warning signs in the entrance of the area.

“But this sign is repeatedly removed”, – she says.

Even for the persons that live around the area it is not easy to live with the hazard of unexploded ammunitions near them.

Daniela, 12 years old, whose house is very near the dismantling area, says that she never goes for a walk around that area because her parents warned her about the dangers that lie ahead.

The Ministry of Defense aims to completely clear the area and to consign it to the local authorities in order to use it for tourism.

But this idea is not supported by everyone. According to RedionQiriazi of IDM, as long as a country has an army, this country should have large training areas that exclusively serve the role.

“In every country of the world these areas are preserved to serve the interests of national security. Unfortunately, many Albanian governments have underestimated this purpose, by constantly reducing the military areas and allowing the urban areas to approach them. This consists in a reduction of military activities”, Qiriazi said.

In a time when the discussion over military spaces in the country is strategic, the need for security from the ammunitions of the past remains urgent.

*In the featured image, military experts collecting unexploded ammunition  (Archive)