The Blog

As IED Attacks Rise By 35%, More Needs to Be Done to Stop the Use of This Terrible Weapon

The deaths of over 118 people in a twin bombing attack in the central Nigeria city of Jos is yet more terrible news coming from the West Africa nation. But it is also part of a wider trend.

The deaths of over 118 people in a twin bombing attack in the central Nigeria city of Jos is yet more terrible news coming from the West Africa nation. But it is also part of a wider trend.

Last year, almost 75% of the world's victims of explosive weapons were from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Not cluster munitions, not state-purchased landmines, not aerial bombardments, rather IEDs. Explosives secreted in innocuous cars parked by cafes, suicide bombs strapped to the chests of indoctrinated young men, massive detonations set off under busy highways.

These terrible weapons have a devastating and often hidden global impact. The charity I work for, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), recorded almost 23,000 civilians killed or injured last year by these weapons alone. This figure is 35% higher than the year before, when just under 17,000 civilians were harmed.

The astonishing global rise of the IED is almost totally unreported. Isolated bombing attacks can get much local and international press coverage, but the wider trend goes neglected. It is understandable why. There is a certain powerlessness that many feel in the face of such ugly weapons. They are used by organisations that often lurk in the shadows - terrorist groups and insurgencies.

So the institutions and organisations that usually debate the harm caused by weapons - charities, governments, the United Nations - seem at a loss as how to respond. The successful approaches of diplomacy and international treaties in banning, say, landmines or cluster munitions, seem redundant in the face of this weapon of terror.

But does that mean we should stand by and do nothing? Of course not. The question is - what can be done?

For a start we can try to stigmatise their use. All to often the dominant voice that you hear following a bombing is that of the suicide bomber themselves, recorded before their terrible deed, with a backtrack of quasi-mystical music. This narrative, often captured in some of the final words of a young man or woman headed to their violent death, ends at the bombing. The injured are left unremembered and unrecognised.

In a small way we should try to wrestle the narrative of violence from the bombers. Today, AOAV launched a video that adopts the look and feel of one of these suicide bomber videos. But rather than focusing on the message of the bomber, this video highlights the pain and suffering of the victims.

In this particular case, it records the testimonies of men and women whose lives were devastated by one of Pakistan's most notorious attacks, the Moon Market bombings in Lahore in December 2009. At least 60 people were killed in that bombing and over a hundred more were wounded in one of Lahore's busiest markets.

Our research behind the video shows some stark truths that deserve consideration. Only 6% of victims interviewed received psychological support. About half (44%) of victims had to return to hospital multiple times for follow on treatment. 74% of people spoken to, who were injured or lost family members, believed they were worse off financially due to the attack. And nobody has been convicted for any involvement in the Moon Market bombings.

Clearly governments, charities and the public at large can do more to recognise the long-term physical, psychological and financial needs of victims of IED attacks.

Governments can do this by insisting, for a start, that the names and numbers of those hurt or killed by such weapons are properly recorded and made public. They can ensure that budgets for public health authorities are shored up when hospitals are forced to take on the immense burden of treating the many victims these weapons create. They can try to prevent the dissemination of bomb making information on the Internet. And they can ensure that their own security services are properly trained not to get too 'trigger happy' in the face of the threat of IEDs, to ensure innocent civilians are not killed by nervous troops - as occurred all too frequently in the US occupation of Iraq.

These are major and ambitious hopes, of course. But we can all start by acknowledging that there is a problem that has crept up on us. And we should be concerned. Because if the suicide bomber becomes the weapon of choice in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Nigeria, then it may not be long before they will be seen much closer to home.