In 2012, the United States marked the 70th anniversary of the World War II Allied landing at Guadalcanal, which led in 1943 to a strategic victory in the Pacific. The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) began providing support for conventional weapons destruction assistance in the Pacific Islands in 2009. Many of the island nations, including what is now the Solomon Islands, saw heavy fighting between Allied and Japanese forces during the so-called “island-hopping” campaign between 1942 and the war’s end in 1945.
More than seventy years later, communities on many of these islands still face hidden hazards from bombs, mortars, artillery shells, and other unexploded ordnance (UXO), but a recent U.S. initiative is harnessing data to find and locate these abandoned armaments faster, and bring long overdue peace of mind to area residents.
Many of these abandoned munitions are of U.S. origin, and lay buried on land or in the surrounding waters, posing not only a safety risk but also a barrier to economic development. These munitions also present the United States with a unique opportunity to take action and make these islands a safer place for everyone. For this reason, the Department has prioritized the safe removal of these legacies of war in the East Asia and Pacific region.
As in any post-conflict cleanup, reliable data on the location of munitions is critical. However, relatively little such information exists on lingering UXO in the Pacific Island region, which makes clearance projects in this expansive area especially challenging. While several ongoing efforts focus on reconstructing the historical record of ordnance use in the Pacific during WWII, they are uncoordinated and relatively incomplete. Beginning in 2012, PM/WRA has supported Information Management and Mine Action Programs, Inc. (iMMAP) in its efforts to locate bombing data and identify remaining UXO hazards in the Pacific Islands.
In the last few months, iMMAP has worked to complete a comprehensive picture of clearance activities to date in the region. Utilizing a three phased approach -- assessment, collection, and analysis -- iMMAP is compiling data on clearance activities, actors, and organizations. This process begins with interviews of current and past clearance operators, with the information then recorded within a web-based application called Loom. This application plots updated information on suspected hazards and clearance activity locations on a map. Users can then prioritize suspected hazardous areas for clearance based on the needs of the host nation’s government. iMMAP-produced maps also clearly label sites of WWII era battles, a valuable visual tool for understanding where UXO may still exist, in addition to where PM/WRA-funded clearance projects are currently underway in the region.
Through this process, iMMAP will enable PM/WRA and other partners working to address this complex challenge to better understand how hazards from unexploded ordnance affect the people and nations in the Pacific region, and to develop more effective strategies to tackle the problem.
Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.3 billion in assistance to more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. For more information on U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, including humanitarian demining, check out the latest edition of our To Walk the Earth in Safety.