Seventy-seven years after the end of World War II, Pacific island nations still face the daunting challenge of post-war impacts: unexploded ordnance (UXO) and derelict ordnance litter the vast expanse of the region.
At the height of World War II, from 1941 to 1945, military forces from the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand clashed in a series of battles across the Pacific Islands. Large stocks of ammunition mainly from the United States and Japan were shipped to various islands to support ongoing military operations. Unused and abandoned munitions and other explosive objects that failed to explode were left strewn across islands and atolls, buried in sand or submerged in surrounding lagoons. At the end of World War II, a large amount of UXO remained, posing a significant threat to local communities. After more than seven decades, the presence of World War II munitions continues to affect nine Pacific island nations: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Solomon, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
The United States has been at the forefront of unexploded ordnance remediation efforts, alongside allies and partners such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand, through its destruction program conventional weapons. Progress to date has been considerable, but much remains to be done. The United States is a Pacific nation – geographically, economically, historically, and culturally – and remains invested in supporting a prosperous Pacific. Identifying and destroying blast hazards is key to sustaining this success in making the land safe for our Pacific Island allies and partners to grow their economies through sustainable development. In land-scarce countries, clearing unexploded ordnance can have a disproportionate impact.
In Palau, the United States supports UXO clearance through the National UXO Safety Office. The United States has committed more than $5.4 million to create a national UXO survey plan, conduct clearance operations, and build the Palau government’s ability to identify and destroy UXO. Since 2020, the United States has funded the return of more than 80 acres of land to local people and destroyed 2,294 UXOs with a US implementing partner Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).
In the Solomon Islands, the United States has provided more than $6.8 million since 2009 to establish an explosive ordnance disposal team with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and national capacity building to identify and destroy explosive remnants of war. This included training 13 engineers who conducted over 1,200 EOD calls and destroyed over 29,746 UXO items with an implementation partner Golden West Humanitarian Foundation since 2009. US steps up efforts in Solomon Islands as Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare during his August visit to Honiara.
The United States has invested more than $2 million in the Republic of the Marshall Islands for technical UXO survey and explosive ordnance disposal operations on 12 islands across five atolls. This includes essential cooperation through the Marshall Islands Office of Historic Preservation to identify and catalog munitions of American and Japanese origin. US funding for Golden West Humanitarian Foundation helped find and destroy more than 140 dropped bombs, mortars, sea mines and other explosive devices that threatened local communities. The United States is working with the Republic of the Marshall Islands to expand cooperation and advance UXO remediation throughout the island nation.
The United States Quick Reaction Force has also been critical to the safety and security of UXO threats in the Pacific. It is a team of civilian explosive ordnance disposal technical experts who serve as first responders to unexpected UXO-related emergencies around the world, including munitions depot explosions, at-risk munitions depots impending explosions and explosive remnants of war that pose significant threats to civilians. . The Rapid Reaction Force responded to UXO requirements across the Pacific in the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
The United States’ work over the past decade with Pacific Island partners to address the explosive hazards of WWII is fundamental to a prosperous Pacific, and the United States will continue to build on those partnerships to build host nation UXO capacity, and support survey and clearance, so that Pacific partners can advance development priorities on UXO-free lands.
The United States, through its Conventional Weapons Destruction Program, has funded work in the Pacific since 2009. Since 1993, it has provided more than $4.7 billion in assistance to more than 100 countries , making the United States the world’s largest financial supporter of conventional weapons. destruction. For more information, see our annual report, Walk the Earth Safely, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Ethan Rinks is the Program Manager for the East Asia and Pacific Portfolio in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Weapons Removal and Reduction Office at the US State Department.
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