Prepared by Arthur Holbrook, Member of PPP’s Board of Directors and Chair of the organization’s Communications Committee.
Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands was the site of the first major success of the Allies against the Japanese in World War II. American, ANZAC, Fijian, Tongan and Solomon Island soldiers pushed the Japanese off the island and successfully fought off several attempts to retake the island and its strategic airfield. The fierce fighting, which lasted from August 1942 into 1943, left an ugly legacy: unexploded munitions. To learn more, click here.
More than 45,000 of these munitions, ranging from hand grenades, mortar rounds, rifle bullets to aerial bombs, have been removed since 2011 when police in the Solomons started keeping records. A much higher number are assumed to have been discovered prior to that date. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 unexploded munitions remain on Guadalcanal. These munitions have remained hidden in the soil for over 75 years and are dug up regularly by the people of the island, 75% of whom are agricultural workers. It is estimated that every year about 20 local people are killed by these devices. As John Rodsted, the lead researcher with SafeGround, an advocacy group for the removal of explosives left behind by war, explained, the unexploded munitions can make farming a fatal occupation. “They are scared of their land.” (1)
From Journal of Conventional Weapons Disposal:
Livingston is a constable with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force on New Georgia Island. When he receives a report of old ammunition and bombs, he investigates. “I find many old bombs. The farmers and fishermen report them to the police. They in turn report to Honiara (capital of the Solomon Island). The problem is distance, logistics, time and money. The distances are great in the Solomon Islands and it takes time and money for the EOD team to be able to respond to all reports…” Photo courtesy of John Rodsted
Meanwhile, local fishermen sometimes use explosives to fish. This practice has depleted fish stocks and damaged coral reefs in some lagoons. Because coral is reduced to rubble by this practice, it often will not regrow. Dynamite fishing has left some areas in the Solomons with no reefs and no fish. (2)
A number of areas on Guadalcanal have not been used for generations because they are contaminated with the buried munitions. Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), working closely with local police, has been attempting to remedy the situation. They are developing a database of the locations of the munitions. These operations recently came to an abrupt halt when two ordnance removal technicians, one British, one Australian, were killed in an explosion.
International efforts have focused on anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. Since neither of these types of munitions is believed to have been used in the South Pacific, the region was not provided with international assistance for ordnance removal until recently. Hence, organized efforts to deal with the unexploded munitions in the region only began in 2010 when Pacific Forum leaders called for assistance to address the problem. The Forum’s Regional Security Committee’s strategy was put into place in 2012. Several countries have been selected as on-going priorities: Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, the Royal Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. (3)
(2) Special Report: Solomon Islands’ Explosive Legacy, “Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction, Vol. 20, Iss. 3 , 5. https://commons.lib.jmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2756&context=cisr-ournal&te=1&nl=at-war&emc=edit_war_20200925.
(3) Special Report, 3, 4.