The HALO Trust became a formal legal entity on 9 March 1988, however the concept of providing civilian mineclearance as an act of humanity was developed by HALO’s founders over the two years running up to 1988.
Guy Willoughby and Colin Mitchell were seeing the impact of landmines in both the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan. In the former, the provision of humanitarian relief supplies was badly hampered by anti-tank mines on roads, while in Afghanistan thousands of civilians were becoming victims of anti-personnel mines. The rising number of casualties treated by the International Red Cross hospital in the Pakistan city of Peshawar gave an indication of the threat that mines would present to the eventual large scale return of Afghan refugees.
On the 14 April 1988 The Geneva Accord was signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the Soviet Union and the USA acting as guarantors. A month later on 15th May 1988 the Soviet Forces started their withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the same week Guy Willoughby set up HALO in Kabul. Twenty-four years later, and without interruption despite political regime changes, HALO in Afghanistan has grown to over 3,600 staff – and has cleared over 700,000 mines from minefields and stockpiles, and ten million items of ordnance.
HALO’s second programme started in Cambodia in 1991, when HALO was asked by UNHCR to conduct a mines survey ahead of the planned repatriation of over 600,000 refugees from the Thai border camps. As with Afghanistan, this programme quickly developed into full mineclearance, and 21 years later HALO has over 1,100 demining staff and has cleared well over 200,000 mines from across the north-west provinces.
In 1993 HALO started in Mozambique, again with an initial survey for UNDP of the country-wide impact of landmines, particularly on roads. By 2007 HALO had cleared over 100,000 landmines and every known mined area from the four provinces north of the Zambezi, and then moved to the south and central provinces, where HALO currently works with 374 staff.
HALO’s Angola programme started in 1994, and has concentrated on the Plan Alto provinces and its rail corridor – from Benguela, through Huambo, Bie and across to Cuando Cubango province, and now down to Huila. The programme is similar in size to Cambodia, with up to 1,200 staff working across the provinces, including weapons and ammunition disposal. HALO has cleared over 68,000 mines from 570 sites.
HALO’s programmes in the Caucasus started in 1995 and 1996 – in Nagorno Karabakh, Georgia/Abkhazia and Chechnya. The Karabakh project was run with a limited timeframe of 18 months, to see if a Local Capacity could be set up, equipped, trained and then left to run on its own with no external financial or technical support. By Year 2000 the Stepanakert authorities invited HALO to return, and in the last 12 years we have run a regular programme, employing 250 full time staff, and clearing over 10,000 landmines.
The programme in Abkhazia is nearing completion with the clearance of over 9,500 mines and 46,000 items of unexploded ordnance, while the Georgia programme concentrated on the clearance of cluster bomblets from the short conflict in 2008, and the clearance of landmines around former Soviet military bases from the 1990s.
HALO’s programme in Somaliland started in 1999, and 13 years later nearly 500 staff are employed full time. These deminers have cleared over 80,000 explosive items from 17,500 hectares.
The same year we conducted an emergency survey in Kosovo, and then commenced clearance employing over 400 staff. Work continues today, clearing cluster bomblet strikes and also minefields.
In 2000-2001 we surveyed Ethiopia and Eritrea, and followed up with 480 deminers working in Eritrea.
Our Sri Lanka programme started in 2002, expanded to over 500 staff, then reduced at the height of the army offensive against the LTTE in 2008, but is now back to almost 1,000 strong, working across Jaffna and the Vanni on behalf of the returning displaced families.
HALO Colombia started in 2009, with formal registration in Bogota and a Memorandum of Understanding with the government to survey areas where the conflict has finished.
In May 2011 HALO conducted an emergency survey of the Ivory Coast that found that there were significant problems with ammunition storage. HALO then embarked on a stockpile security project which aims to relocate ammunition away from civilian areas and secure it in more remote stores. HALO is also working with the police and military to improve weapons security arrangements across the country.
Over the last 24 years we also conducted assessment missions into other mine-impacted countries, such as Bosnia, Croatia, Lebanon, Vietnam, Laos, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Burundi and Tajikistan.
HALO’s Weapons & Ammunition Disposals (WAD) teams are working in Afghanistan, Angola, Somaliland, Ivory Coast and Abkhazia, and have worked in Cambodia and Mozambique.
The HALO Trust’s global HQ is in a converted stable block in South West Scotland.