Threat posed to the Pacific by unexploded bombs
Unexploded WWII weapons pose an environmental risk as well as an explosive one.
The head of an NGO trying to rid the Pacific of unexploded ordnance from World War II says the 70 year old weapons now pose an environmental danger, as well as an explosive one.
The National Coordinator for Safe Ground Australia, Lorel Thomas, says the weapons are corroding and releasing acids and other chemicals into the sea and soil which is affecting fishing and agriculture.
She says this was the focus of a recent conference in Brisbane where the NGO and governments from around the region worked to create national action plans.
LOREL THOMAS: We do have a number of points drafted towards national action plans. We have a high degree of support for regional co-ordination. I'm not sure whether it will eventuate, but we have a suggestion for a regional trust fund to allow co-ordination of clearance and we've had significant input from the government of the United States and the government of New Zealand, as well as the government of Australia.
JAMIE TAHANA: These co-ordinated national plans, what would they look like?
LT: A national action plan would have a specific focal point. It would be a cross-ministry plan. It would have specific tasks designed for particular ministries. It would have steps in place for the co-ordination for any clearance activities. It would have formulation of national policies on clearance and it would have policies in place for ratification of various conventions, such as the Landmine Convention, the Cluster Munition treaty, the Certain Conventional Weapons treaty, things like that.
JT: Where to now?
LT: The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat will take a major role in any future steps. They are preparing a draft regional plan as a result of the workshop and they will co-ordinate with each of the affected Pacific Island nations and with mine clearance agencies and with donor governments.
JT: And just how much unexploded ordnance do we think there is out there in these countries?
LT: I cannot give you numbers of particular types of explosives. I can simply say that some of the islands in particular still seem to be massively contaminated. There has been a reasonable amount of work done in both the Solomons and Palau. There are sea mines, grenades, mortars, hand grenades, artillery, small arms, ammunition. And unfortunately all of this ordnance, whether it be in Palau, the Solomon Islands, the Marshalls, Kiribati, wherever, it is all from World War II, it is all old and it is all corroding. So in addition to the actual explosive danger, the ordnance is leaking something called 'picric acid', which was used in an explosive capacity, because it is an explosive. It's highly dangerous. It's leaking into lagoons, it's leaking into the soil. There's a significant problem in Kiribati now - it's affecting their fishing industry because of the dangerous chemicals which are leaking into the ocean. So it's not just an explosive issue. It's also a land and sea contamination issue from the corrosion of the weapons.
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