UNMAS Gaza Emergency Response Report

by Mark Frankish [ UNMAS Gaza ] - view pdf

Extent of ERW damage in the residential area in Beit Lahiya, Gaza.
All graphics courtesy of UNMAS.
Extent of ERW damage in the residential area in Beit Lahiya, Gaza.
All graphics courtesy of UNMAS.

From 7 July to 26 August 2014, significant quantities of explosive ordnance were used during hostilities between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Gazan armed groups. It is reported that approximately 72,000 items of ordnance were fired and launched during this period.1 This presented a significant risk for civilians and hampered humanitarian and reconstruction operations. Many unexploded aircraft bombs, tank projectiles, mortar shells and other munitions from both sides of the conflict were reported in civilian areas. Based on a 10 percent fail rate, it was assumed there are approximately 7,200 items of explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Gaza, including a significant number of air delivered bombs.2 The ERW contamination has interrupted the lives of entire communities in Gaza, where simply gaining access to homes, schools, health facilities, etc. is challenging and dangerous. Livelihoods are also directly affected when small industries and farmlands are destroyed and littered with ERW.

The military operations resulted in more than 2,000 casualties in Gaza, 65 in Israel and massive damage to infrastructure and civilian property in Gaza.3 A review on structures by United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) detailed that within the 327 sq km (126 sq mi) of the Gaza strip, 6,761 structures were destroyed, 3,565 were severely damaged and 4,938 were moderately damaged. In addition, there were 7,473 craters recorded in agricultural and non-urbanized areas.4

Approximately 74 percent of the damage sustained was within 3 km (1.8 mi) of the Armistice Line. Within this area multiple neighborhoods such as Shuja’iyya, Beit Hanoun, Khuza’a, etc., were damaged to such an extent that the vast majority of structures in these communities were completely destroyed.

Damage Assessment Summary
  Destroyed Severely Damaged Moderatly Damaged Total Structures Affected Crater Impact
North Gaza 1,253 761 1,000 3,014 1,702
Gaza City 1,963 1,127 1,378 4,468 1,765
Deir Al Balah 809 406 683 1,898 553
Khan Younis 1,749 898 1,379 4,026 1,549
Rafah 987 373 498 1,858 1,604
Total 6,761 3,565 4,938 16,264 7,473
Figure 1. Damage assessment summary.
  UNRWA Schools UNRWA Clinics UNRWA Other UNDP UNICEF UNSCO WHO Hospitals UNCESCO Education NGO Education Total
ERW RA Requests 100 12 34 15 26 3 9 14 1 214
ERW RA Complete 100 12 34 15 26 3 9 14 1 214
Figure 2. ERW risk assessment by agency
Agency RA's A/C Bomb 155 mm Illum 155 mm HE 120 mm HE Mortar 120 mm
HE Mortar
105 mm Tank Heat 80 mm HE Mortar Mine Grenade Guided Missiles Total
UNRWA Schools 100 0 30 0 32 6 41 0 0 1 7 117
UNRWA Clinics 12 0 1 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 6
UNRWA Other 34 1 3 0 4 0 1 0 0 0 0 9
UNDP 15 5 10 0 20 1 11 5 0 0 0 52
UNICEF 26 9 37 0 38 13 5 0 1 0 0 133
UNSCO 3 0 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6
WHO Hospitals 9 0 1 0 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 7
UNCESCO Education 14 7 0 0 23 0 10 0 0 0 1 41
NGO Education 1 0 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 10
Total 214 22 93 5 153 20 73 5 1 1 8 381
Figure 3. ERW designation types.

Threat Defined

While the majority of ERW seen to date in Gaza is of conventional type, there have been no reports of submunitions or landmines used with the exception of anti-tank mines deployed by combat engineers in the destruction of buildings. Ground ordnance in the form of tank, artillery, cannon and recoilless projectiles, mortar bombs, grenades, and rockets all exist. In addition, there is the threat from air delivered ordnance of up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) bombs and the toxicological hazard associated with fired-depleted uranium, armor-piercing projectiles.

UNRWA classroom in Biet Hanoon.
UNRWA classroom in Biet Hanoon.

UNMAS Gaza Emergency Response

On 27 July 2014, in response to a directive from the U.N. Secretary General, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) deployed three explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technical advisers to work directly with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and other U.N. agencies. The UNMAS team was based in the UNRWA compound during the conflict and was responsible for carrying out ERW risk assessments at U.N. facilities and other structures. This was to ensure that U.N. personnel and civilians seeking refuge in U.N. premises were safe from ERW and other explosive hazards. During the emergency response, UNMAS Gaza carried out 214 ERW risk assessments on facilities of which 209 were cleared and five were handed back to the parent organization to be included within the reconstruction phase. As a result, UNRWA was in a position to reopen all schools on their scheduled date, thereby enabling 240,000 children to resume their academic curriculum in a safe environment free from ERW. The UNMAS emergency response phase was critical to address immediate ERW and other explosive threats to the U.N., as well as responding to the critical humanitarian needs of the general civilian population.

This deployment was vital in facilitating an ERW response during the early stages of the conflict. The immediate ERW threats to the civilian population were addressed and requirements for a long-term ERW response were determined through a defined needs assessment. The assessment included the identification and analysis of the ERW threat, identifying those affected by the threat, as well as the extent and measurable effects caused by the threat. The approach was “bottom-up” whereby all community stakeholders and beneficiaries were consulted prior to any program development, thereby identifying potential barriers early. The results of the needs assessment were formalized within the UNMAS Gaza concept of operations (CONOPS).

Destroyed residential area of Shejaayea.
Destroyed residential area of Shejaayea.

Overview of ERW Risk Assessment

Generic risk assessment is a multi-disciplinary approach used by many organizations and industries for hazard identification, accident prevention and mitigation. It consists of an objective evaluation of hazards and risks in which suppositions and fears are measured, analyzed and presented so that a decision can be made concerning a course of action.

Within the context of the UNMAS Gaza emergency response, a hazard was defined as any item of ERW that could cause harm, whereas a risk was defined as the chance that somebody could be harmed by an ERW hazard. Therefore the ERW risk assessment was an invaluable process that determined how the ERW hazards were defined and how they affected planning and operations. A conscious decision was made to ensure that the processes should always work toward producing useful information that can be assimilated practically into all levels of operations. The ERW risk assessment was a systematic and investigative process that involved identifying hazards, predicting possible incidents, and determining the impact of hazards and mitigation measures that can be implemented or planned.

Principles of ERW Risk Assessment

Removal of a neutralized 2000-lb bomb at the Rafah border crossing.
Removal of a neutralized 2000-lb bomb at the Rafah border crossing.

The ERW risk assessments were conducted in a constantly changing environment due to the fluid nature of the conflict in Gaza. From an operational management perspective, the following core principles guided our principle- based approach:

Phases of ERW Risk Assessment

In order to develop a comprehensive, reliable and consistent ERW risk assessment system, the following six-phased approach was adopted for all ERW risk assessment activities, regardless of requesting agency or facility type:

The phases flow in a continuous cycle creating a system that is self-improving and adaptable to most situations.

ERW Risk Assessment Methodology

Conducting ERW risk assessments within the context of the Gaza armed conflict, whether during the conflict or immediately after the cessation of hostilities, was challenging due to the specific facets that had to be considered. These facets included security, access, logistics, neutrality, and access to locations and information sources. Particularly challenging during the ERW risk assessments was the ever-changing security situation that could change from a workable, conducive environment to one of heightened danger in a short period of time. In an attempt to mitigate the security threat whilst conducting ERW risk assessments, a very specific security risk management plan through an ERW Security CONOPS was defined and implemented with the UNRWA field security office (FSO), which included:

As the purpose of the ERW risk assessment was to identify hazards and risks, this methodology was chosen through a fact-building questionnaire within an ERW risk assessment report. This methodology was chosen because it provides a systematic way of evaluating situations, ascertaining threats, collecting and analyzing information, and reporting pertinent facts and results to the client.

On completion of the ERW risk assessment report, all details were forwarded to the requesting agency along with details of any recommended risk-mitigation measures.

ERW Risk Assessment Results Analysis

The following section is an analysis of the collated ERW risk assessment resulting from the 214 facilities visited. The actual analysis was a two-stage process where the data was identified and organized into the pre-selected tables and then interpreted to gain a better understanding of the facts.

Direct Fire
Indirect Fire
UNRWA Schools
UNRWA Clinics
WHO Hospitals
UNCESCO Education
NGO Education
Figure 4. Structural damage analysis.
Agency RA's IDF Armed Groups total
UNRWA Schools 100 4 7 11
UNRWA Clinics 12 0 0 0
UNRWA Other 34 0 0 0
UNDP 15 0 0 0
UNICEF 26 5 0 5
UNSCO 3 0 0 0
WHO Hospitals 9 0 0 0
UNCESCO Education 14 0 0 0
NGO Education 1 0 0 0
Total 214 9 7 16
Figure 5. Evidence of military occupation.

Requesting Agency Type

The following summarizes which agencies requested ERW risk assessments:

ERW Designation Type

A total number of 381 items of ERW (or component parts) were located and cleared with the assistance of the CPP EOD teams.

Structural Damage

Figure 4 provides analysis on the sustained structural damage:

Evidence of Military Occupation

Evidence of military occupation is presented in the following narrative and in Figure 5:

Aerial Bomb Clearance

Aerial Bomb and Fuze Technical Analysis

A technical analysis on the 16 aerial bombs rendered safe including the following:


Ensuring the safety of staff during operations was of paramount importance and required that UNMAS Gaza effectively manage the ever-changing security situation through the creation and implementation of a specific security risk management system. This was only possible through the close coordination and facilitation of the UNRWA FSO, who was fundamental in the management of the security enabling environment.

Conducting ERW risk assessments was and is a sensitive and delicate process, as it deals with how hazards and risks are perceived and managed. In order to eliminate any personal bias during the ERW risk assessment procedure, it was vital that a formal and systematic ERW risk assessment procedure was agreed upon, documented, applied and reviewed. The defined ERW risk assessment methodology has been modified to suit the specific nuances of other ERW risk assessments within a phased response. Initially, the ERW risk assessment procedure was defined for the UNMAS emergency response phase and now has been modified for the UNMAS ERW reconstruction support phase.

The analysis of the ERW risk assessments from the 214 facilities visited was based on a relatively small sample number when looking at the quantities of explosive ordnance used and the damage and destruction within the wider context of the 2014 conflict. While in-depth, valid information was obtained, it should not be viewed as an exact representation of the situation Gaza-wide.

It should be noted that when managing the recovered data, a conscious effort was made to present “real impartial data” as opposed to unsubstantiated anecdotes. The data was simply presented in an unbiased manner with the intention of determining useful information and formulating conclusions to assist in the technical decision making process.

Collectively, the UNMAS emergency response findings and the results from the ERW response needs assessment provided the prerequisite information needed to accurately define the future UNMAS Gaza CONOPS. This has and will continue to ensure that appropriate technical assets and support mechanisms are in place for each operational phase, thereby ensuring that UNMAS continues to meet and exceed the expectations of all stakeholders involved. c



Mark FrankishMark Frankish, is a former British army bomb disposal officer who has worked in ERW and mine action since 1998 for The HALO Trust, UNMAS and within the Gas and Oil Sectors (Shell & Exxon Mobil). He joined UNMAS in 2001 in Kosovo and worked in numerous projects at both an operational and program management level until 2010. Since 2010, he has continued working within the humanitarian and commercial sectors, and most recently he was the ammunition and weapons management advisor for UNMAS during the Gaza Emergency Response 2014–2015. He has a Master of Arts in post conflict reconstruction and development from the University of York (U.K.).


Contact Information

Mark Frankish
Ammunition & Weapon Management Advisor
1 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017 / USA
Website: http://mineaction.org



  1. United Nations Department of Safety and Security Joint Security Information Office.
  2. The figure of 10% is generally used to detail the percentage failure rate of ammunition.
  3. “50 Days of Death & Destruction: Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge.” Institute for Middle East Understanding. 10 September 2014. http://bit.ly/1xTBcgo. Accessed 26 February 2016.
  4. “Impact of the 2014 Conflict in the Gaza Strip UNOSAT Satellite Derived Geospatial Analysis.” United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). 2014. http://bit.ly/1Gg3538. Accessed 26 February 2016.
  5. United Nations Relief and Works Agency includes sanitary works, field offices, pumping stations, etc.
  6. Interview with Deputy Head of Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration. 10 December 2014.
  7. Direct fire refers to the launching of a projectile directly at a target within the line-of-sight of the firer.
  8. Indirect fire is aiming and firing a projectile without relying on a direct line of sight between the gun and its target.