Bosnia Floods and Land Mines

Experts are warning that huge numbers of old land mines from the 1990s Balkan War could be uncovered after the record breaking rainfall and widespread flooding that has inundated large swathes of Bosnia-Herzogovina.

Land Mine Explosion in Cerika

There has already been one explosion of a mine in Cerika, Brcko District in Bosnia. No injuries have been reported. Bosnia’s Mine Action Centre (MAC) say that they have already found bombs, grenades and weapons that have been dislodged or revealed by floods and landslides.

In a press release yesterday, MAC said they are working on finding the locations of land mines where the floods have receded.

De mining in Bosnia. Photo BH MAC
De mining in Bosnia. Photo BH MAC

“All operational teams of Mine Action Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina are present in flooded areas where the water receded, with the aim of gathering information on changing the borders of suspected hazardous areas caused by floods and landslides.”

There have been around 3,000 landslides in Bosnia since the floods began. There is a real fear that flood water and landslides may have uncovered, dislodged or washed away some of the 120,000 landmines that still remain after the war. Since the end of the war, land mines have killed 600 people and injured more than 1,700.

13,000 Land Mine Locations…and Counting

Bosnia has the highest density of land mine contamination in the world. Land mines were laid in particular strategic areas of the country, for example along border areas and river banks. Between 1,300 and 1,800 km² is thought to still be contaminated with land mines and and unexploded munitions, across over 13,000 different locations. There are 25,000 signs warning of land mines across Bosnia. MAC are encouraging locals to mark any new locations of land mines with improvised signs.

Land Mine warning sign in Bosnia. Photo: Od Drvara do Knina
Land Mine warning sign in Bosnia. Photo: Od Drvara do Knina

Land Mines in Rivers

The fact that land mines were laid along river banks increases the likelihood of them being dislodged and swept away further downstream. Many of the land mines used in the 1990s were lightweight – most likely made from plastic – and therefore could easily be carried long distances by flood water and fast moving rivers. The plastic land mines are also fairly resilient to water, and can remain “live” despite being submerged for lengthy periods.

Floods and Land Mines in Mozambique, Korea and Vietnam

In similar circumstances to those currently in Bosnia, floods in Mozambique during 2000, flood waters swept away old land mines which then began to appear in previously non-contaminated areas. See the report by Human Rights Watch here.

There are also examples of floods shifting land mines and munitions in Korea and Vietnam. According to Human Rights Watch:

In central Vietnam, mines and UXO that were once 4-12 inches below the surface shifted during severe flooding in November-December 1999. The BLU 26/36 “bombies” and 40 mm grenades were most susceptible to shifting, as well as being responsible for a large number of casualties; this phenomenon is blamed for at least 3 deaths last November