The guns of WWII were silenced almost 70 years ago, leaving thousands of combatant graves from both sides on the Pacific Islands and tonnes of unexploded ordnance littering otherwise idyllic locations. Many of these munitions had failed to detonate as intended during the war and others had simply been abandoned – left lying on the ground or unsafely disposed of in the sea.
Nine Pacific Island states are still contaminated by massive amounts of World War Two ordnance, nearly 70 years after the war ended. Not only does this pose an explosive risk, the weapons are corroding, leaking dangerous chemicals into sea and soil. This legacy has both a human and environmental effect, limiting farming, damaging industry and tourism, and perpetuating the poverty cycle.
SafeGround is researching and documenting the effects of explosive remnants of war in the Pacific to attract attention to the need for funding and clearance. By bringing the scale of the problem and potential solutions to affected communities, local and national leaders and their local and international partners, we engage them to take action. The full scale of the Pacific Islands WWII Remnants of War Project aims to research and document the problem and solutions in ERW affected Pacific states.
The project was done in 3 phases. In phase 1 ran from from 2014 to 2015. In this period the focus was general desk research on all affected countries and a field study in the Solomon Islands, which was identified as the top priority by the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat. An important part of this phase was the identification of lessons learnt, creating a blue print of how to conduct field studies in each affected country and establishing strong partnerships with stakeholders in the region, such as donor countries, mine action operators and other partners. There were also important lessons learnt on how to disseminate the information back into the affected communities.
In phase 2 the remaining identified priority countries to be researched will be the following; Papua New Guinea, Palau, Kiribati, Royal Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Vanuatu.
The Solomon Islands is one of the Pacific Island states most severely affected by ERW, with more than 3,000 tonnes of bombs dropped during WWII. This ERW has been identified by the Solomon Islands as a human security problem threatening public health, safety and the environment. The Pacific Island Forum Secretariat has identified the Solomon Islands as the top priority ERW-affected country requiring assistance.
In 2015 we researched the US National Archives (NARA) as well as conducting a field study in the Solomon Islands to document this problem of, and solutions to, weapons remaining in the Solomon Islands from World War II. The findings from the field are available in a report and film, with a further exhibition that took place in 2015. In 2018 the final product will cover most of the affected Pacific Island states in a film and a book, using both historical photo and film as well as current documentation.
Our project team consisted of:
- Kerryn Clarke,
- Mette Eliseussen,
- Patricia Garcia,
- Dana Glenn,
- Georgia Murphy,
- John Rodsted,
- Major General Mike Smith (Rtd) and
- Lorel Thomas.
Each member of this team has specific skills with many of them having decades of experience in researching ERW under difficult circumstances in the field. We specialise in delivering high quality products at low cost. SafeGround plans to establish an advisory group that will assist the Pacific Islands WWII Remnants of War Project. Major General Mike Smith has agreed to lead this group.
A submission for support was sent to Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions Coalition (ICBL-CMC). SafeGround contributed 40% of the project costs in cash and in kind contributions.