Lebanon serves as a reminder of Britain's vital role in helping countries recover from conflict
Lebanon is a country beset by economic and political challenges, but I have witnessed first-hand the life-saving impact British expertise is having on some of the poorest communities in that country.
On a visit there with the Coalition for Global Prosperity, I walked through the minefields of the Blue Line, on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, and met families living next to land littered with deadly cluster bombs.
I also met farmers who were able to cultivate land for the first time in decades because those precious acres were, at long last, free of landmines.
This work to free communities from the fear of landmines and unexploded ordnance is thanks to the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a charity based in the UK.
In Lebanon, their work is not just about saving lives and limbs but, crucially, brings back into use fertile agricultural land in a country which desperately needs to increase its productivity and lessen its reliance on foreign imports.
The war currently raging in Ukraine will continue to devastate lives long after the guns have fallen silent
In a country facing a spiralling food crisis, with the cost of food surging nearly 400 per cent in just one year, and which normally imports 95 per cent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, any increase in farmable land will be life-saving.
I witnessed the highly skilled MAG staff patiently locating and destroying the landmines and watched as they searched for unexploded cluster munitions in the Bekaa Valley, dropped some four decades ago but still claiming lives and contaminating farmers’ fields today.
The landmine problem is a legacy of decades of civil conflict, ending in May 2000. Lebanon’s cluster munitions problem is a combined result of the conflict with Israel in the 1970s and 80s, as well as the period between July–August 2006, when four million submunitions were fired on south Lebanon, of which an estimated one million failed to detonate.
In 2021 alone, 30 victims of mines were reported in Lebanon, including eight fatalities. This is more than triple the number of victims in 2020, with the economic crisis causing many more people to risk increased exposure to landmine and cluster munition contamination in search of money for survival. Victims were in many cases famers using contaminated land for agriculture, or people searching for scrap metal for resale.
A 2019 study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Lebanese Mine Action Centre (LMAC) on the socioeconomic benefits of mine action in Lebanon, shows that every US dollar invested in mine action generates US $4.15 in socioeconomic benefits.
The achievements of MAG represent Britain as a force for good in the world in the most tangible way imaginable. British expertise applied globally, and in partnership with local communities and host governments, to achieve demonstrable outcomes.
Lebanon’s situation is a striking example of the often-ignored long-term impacts of conflict – and a reminder that the war currently raging in Ukraine will continue to devastate lives long after the guns have fallen silent.
The lesson I take from my experiences in Lebanon is that Britain can and must play a leading role in helping countries recover from conflict. The expertise of British organisations, such as MAG, will be crucial not just in countries in the Middle East, Africa or South East Asia, but closer to home too whenever a sustainable ceasefire or peace agreement is forged in Ukraine.
Jo Gideon is the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central.
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