Daily Star: Cluster bomb contamination has caused at least $22.6 million in agricultural losses to South Lebanon's farmers, according to a report released in late May.

The report, issued by the London-based advocacy group Landmine Action, says that the conflict between Lebanon and Israel in July-August 2006 contaminated 4.8 percent of the agricultural land in Southern Lebanon, rendering it unsafe to use. Despite the dangers posed by cluster munitions in this area, the report estimates that between 15 percent and 30 percent of contaminated land has been used in advance of it being cleared.

"People need their land; it's their main source of livelihood. Based on that people risk their life and still use their land even though they know there are cluster munitions," says Dalya Farran, the UN Mine Action Coordination Center's (UNMACC) media and clearance officer.

An essential characteristic of the 2006 conflict was the "extensive and intensive use of cluster munitions," by Israeli forces, the report says. Cluster bombs, dropped by planes or launched by artillery or rockets, explode above their targets, blanketing an area the size two to three soccer fields with smaller submunitions. Many of these submunitions fail to explode on contact, contaminating the land for decades unless properly removed.

In May, despite pressure from the US, more than 100 countries signed a treaty banning the use of cluster bombs, vowing to destroy their stockpiles.

The treaty was spurred in part by international outrage over the ongoing deadliness of the bombs in Lebanon.

Since a cessation of hostilities went into effect in August 2006, cluster bombs have killed or injured over 250 people, according to the report. Over 100 of those casualties came in the first two months following the war. And while far fewer deaths have occurred of late, people continue to die as a result of the munitions. On Thursday, a 39-year-old farmer died near the town of Marjayoun after stepping on a unexploded submunition.

Farmers use a range of techniques to identify and disarm munitions, including burning land in order to identify contaminated areas, shooting munitions, spraying them with expandable foam, dumping them in ditches and ponds, and paying laborers to collect them, the reports says. Agricultural activity and tending livestock have both proved to be deadly activities for many, but the deliberate "tampering" with the devices is the most common cause of death, according to the report.

"Efforts have been further hindered by the Israels' refusal to say where they dropped cluster bombs or how many they dropped".

"Although the UN requested the information from Israel, up until now we haven't received [it]".

"Even before all operations are complete, many desperate farmers will continue to use their land".

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