5,000 pieces destroyed, but job far from finished: old war ammunition still being found every day in West Flanders

In Poelkapelle, West Flanders, the Belgian army has dismantled the 5,000th piece of ammunition; the historic backlog has now been wiped out. However, this does not mean that the job has been done, says the local bomb disposal unit (DOVO) in Poelkapelle: the Westhoek still sees new discoveries of ammunition, with new reports still coming in each day. 

The problems had started in August 2012, when the previous dismantling installation could no longer be used after an explosion. However, a new unit was opened in Poelkapelle to be used from last year. The bomb disposal unit of the Belgian army announced today that a 5,000th piece of ammunition was destroyed and that the backlog is gone. 

The chemical weapons that were destroyed mostly contain musterd gas or phosgene and were used by British, French or German troops in the Great War. The Westhoek area in the west of West Flanders was the scene of a horrific battle in the First World War which lasted for years.

Each year, farmers or members of the public are still unearthing thousands of old explosives, and many may still be dangerous. Bart Balcaen of DOVO Poelkapelle explains: "Each day we are still receiving various calls of citizens. Last year, we had over 3,000 calls, and we had to identify over 8,000 pieces. About 800 of these turned out to contain liquid toxic substances still. We are always with one or two teams on the field. (...). The thing is that the annual numbers are not really going down."