The news could hardly have come at a worse time. Garcia Paulo Bumba, a church pastor in the rural town of Lubia, had almost completed the simple house he was building for his five children when a neighbour warned him that his new home was almost certainty built on a minefield.
The minister immediately stopped construction, his dreams of a home shattered by the legacy of his country’s 27 year civil war. Many of his 200-strong congregation were also badly affected by the minefield. Covering an area of almost five hectacres, the contaminated land severely restricted farming activities for a community already mired in poverty and deprived of opportunities.
It took the HALO Trust less than six months to clear the minefield of an array of deadly anti-personnel mines unexploded ordnance and improvised devices.
Today, the benefits of that clearance are tangible. Garcia Bumba has finished construction of his home and lives there safely with his children. They plan to cultivate pineapples and mangos in the garden.
The once deadly minefield has been used to extend an agricultural cooperative organised by the church, which provides food security to around 70 people. Previously families were too afraid to extend their cultivation because of the presence of mines, but the clearance has enabled them to increase the size of their crops, meaning they can exist beyond subsistence farming and earn an income from selling surplus produce at the local market.
Yet even in a small town such as Lubia, the growing population remains hindered by minefields in the surrounding district. As the town expands, so does the need for greater food security through cooperative farming. Unless clearance can begin on the remaining minefields, families will be forced to build on contaminated land like Garcia Bumba, putting lives at risk and development on hold.