The Ministry of Police, National Security, and Correctional Service (MPNSCS), in collaboration with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), held a “National UXO Coordination Meeting” in Honiara on Friday, September 1, 2023.
The purpose of the workshop was to take stock of the UXO situation following the COVID lockdowns and to discuss and identify ways to better coordinate a whole-of-government response to the UXO issue in the Solomon Islands.
The stakeholder meeting brought together all relevant national authorities and international partners working in the field of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from World War II.
Solomon Islands government officials, including police, foreign affairs, land, health, fisheries, and environment, along with local and international partners, attended the workshop.
The workshop was officially opened by the Minister of PNSCS, the Honourable Anthony Veke.
In his opening statement, Minister Veke said that “only a few weeks ago, the country recognized the 81st anniversary of the battle of Guadalcanal.” However, even though the war is long over, our citizens face the ongoing threat of UXO. “Over the past two years, four people have been killed in UXO accidents in Honiara.”
Minister Veke also recognized that some citizens deliberately go looking for bombs to obtain the explosive content and then use this for “dynamite fishing.” This is an illegal activity, and it is dangerous—both to the people handling the illegal explosives and to the environment.
The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) will continue to be vigilant in stamping out this activity.
The police also have general responsibility for public safety, including responding to reports of UXO found by citizens throughout the country.
Minister Veke went on to say that “the response to the threat of UXO requires a coordinated and whole-of-government approach.” The presence of UXO in the Solomon Islands affects the environment, health, education, land management, fisheries, infrastructure development, etc., as well as international treaties, regional aspects, and foreign affairs. “Some good progress was made between 2017 and 2019 to better coordinate the government response; however, things had stalled during COVID.”
Minister Veke expressed his pleasure that work was resuming and extended his gratitude to the GICHD for their support.
The meeting also heard a moving account from a UXO accident survivor, Ms. Maevalyn Kabolo Pitanoe.
Ms. Maevalyn Kabolo Pitanoe had been injured when a UXO exploded underneath a cooking fire at a church BBQ in Honiara in May 2021, resulting in the deaths of the two young men.
Ms. Pitanoe gave the meeting a moving account of the accident, her long road to medical recovery, and the challenges she is still facing. She urged all responsible government agencies to work to improve the health care and rehabilitation services in the Solomon Islands.
The meeting also heard from Mr. Simon Conway of the HALO Trust.
HALO Trust is a British NGO, and they have recently commenced a nation-wide non-technical survey. The aim of the survey is to collect historical bombing and battle records, track down reports from all previous UXO clearance efforts, and interview citizens throughout the country in order to build a complete database of the extent of UXO contamination in the Solomon Islands.
Upon completion of the survey next year, this data will enable the government to enhance its planning and prioritization of UXO remediation efforts.
Other outcomes of the meeting included an agreement to review existing national legislation relevant to UXOs, consideration of a new National UXO Policy 2023, recognizing the need for a risk education and victim assistance policy, and noting that the first set of national UXO standards will be approved shortly.
It was noted that the RSIPF EOD team is still the only entity in the country authorized to move, render safe, and destroy any UXO.
Head of the EOD team, Inspector Clifford Tunuki, said that in the first half of 2023, the teams had responded to 220 call-outs and had found and removed 1,018 items of ordnance.
Anyone finding a suspicious object should report it to the RSIPF by calling 999.