War leaves a lasting legacy of unexploded bombs

I n September 1944, US Marines stormed ashore the beaches of Peleliu Island in Palau. The assault was preceded by a massive naval bombardment and air strike, to weaken the Japanese forces which were hidden in caves or entrenched in concrete bunkers. Seventy years later, the people of Peleliu are still dealing with the legacy of this military conflict, in the form of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Locals on Peleliu or visiting tourists still come across high explosive shells, sea mines, grenades and torpedoes that failed to explode in the 1940s, but retain their explosive charge. Today, young Palauans are being trained to help with the slow and painstaking task of finding, identifying and removing thousands of these dangerous weapons.

The British non-government organisation Cleared Ground Demining (CGD) is working with a team of young Palauans to remove the UXO that still litter agricultural land, gardens, beaches and tourist sites. Since September 2009, CGD has removed over 32,000 items on Peleliu. Technical field manager Andrew Johns said much of this weaponry is still dangerous despite the passage of time: “Seventy years on, things still go bang!” Johns said that there were a range of environmental hazards from the ageing weapons: “With sea mines corroding in the salt water for so long, picric acid leaks into the marine environment, which has a damaging effect on the reef or mangroves.” US military records for Palau show that 2200 tonnes of ordnance were dropped by aircraft, with another 600 tonnes fired from US Navy vessels. CGD’s community survey on Peleliu found that 31.2 percent of households had some form of UXO contamination.There are also hazards to key infrastructure on other islands: the de-mining team located a 1,000 pound bomb in the capital Koror, close to the city’s fuel supply and water storage facility.

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