Angola's difficult journey to recovery

My work over the last 4 years as HALO’s regional director for Southern Africa has given me an interesting perspective on recovery after conflict. I am responsible for our programmes in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola - all of which suffer or have suffered a legacy of landmines following civil war. But each country’s journey to recovery and a safe, mine free existence is markedly different.

Mozambique, once one of the most heavily mine impacted countries in the world, is now mine free. HALO was proud to play a part in supporting the Mozambican government in this endeavour. Our impending departure from Mozambique is good news – it means the job’s been done, normal life is resuming and the country is well on the road to recovery.

 

Zimbabwe is at a different stage in its journey. Again it is heavily affected, with probably more mines in the ground than any other African country. Dense minefields lie close to houses, schools and clinics, often separating communities from their primary water sources, and it is estimated that over 1,500 people have lost their lives or been injured by mines since the war. To make matters worse, many farmers can’t access their land and livestock are killed all too often. Our programme in Zimbabwe is making good progress but we need more funding so that we can recruit more deminers and clear the mines more quickly.

eight years of decline in angola

Then we come to Angola where I have watched our staff numbers drop from 1,140 to just 260 over the last 8 years, as funding support has fallen away.

This is painful. Demining provides a livelihood for local people, saves lives and enables wider development to follow. The more deminers we employ, the more families and communities we sustain and the faster we can return land for people to use productively. Laying deminers off forces some families back into poverty, impedes progress towards a mine free Angola and hampers safe growth and development. These are serious consequences for a fragile country such as Angola where 57% of the population lives in rural areas and approximately 36.6% of the population is living below national poverty lines.

HALO started clearing landmines in Angola in 1994. We began by making provincial capitals and infrastructure safe but we are now focusing on more rural areas with vulnerable populations. 

Other organisations such as MAG, NPA, MgM and APOCOMINAS have been clearing minefields in other parts of the country but there is still a great deal more work to do before Angola is mine free.

In order to meet its obligation to the international mine ban treaty, the Angolan government has committed to clearing the country of landmines by 2025. This is a big task which is do-able but only with the right level of funding and a sustained commitment to the challenge, which has not been evident over recent years. 

why the decline?

Funding for mine clearance in Angola has declined because the world at large has felt the country should be able to fund the problem itself, given its mineral wealth and oil revenues. However, some 80% of the state’s revenue comes from oil and as the price of oil has plummeted, it has taken the country’s economy with it. 

A diversified economy, with agriculture at its heart, is vital to the future prosperity of Angola. For this reason, we’ll continue to focus our work and funding on clearing rural communities where livelihoods are dependent on the land.

Unfortunately, not enough is being done and the issue is becoming ever more pressing as Angola's population grows; the World Population Review estimates that the country's population will triple in less than 50 years.

Angola urgently needs help from the international community to fund organisations like HALO who are clearing rural communities of landmines and other debris of war. In restricting aid, governments inflict more harm on the very communities that need their help.

how to tackle the problem?

Like many problems, the solution lies in breaking it down. Angola has 18 provinces. None of them have been completely cleared yet but some are close, where the remaining problem is well defined. Take Huambo, home to the country’s second largest city and once the breadbasket of Angola, with its rich soils and abundance of water. In the province, we have cleared 261 minefields there and only thirty-seven remain. With the right funding, Huambo could be mine impact free in three years. This would improve the lives of over 26,000 people among Angola’s rural poor. Clearing and returning these last minefields will allow 230 hectares of land to be returned to productive use once more.

We plan to make Huambo mine impact free, have embarked on a project to do so and are building a consortium of like-minded partners.

When Princess Diana visited San Antonio, a suburb of Huambo town, in 1997 it was just one big minefield. It wasn’t used, it was unsafe, it was a place where accidents were happening. Now if you go, there are tarmac roads, homes, businesses and schools. The place is flourishing. It has transformed, which is only possible if the land is safe, and to make the land safe you need to clear the mines.

 

For Huambo, we are working closely with the U.S. Department of State, which supports mine clearance at the highest level. Indeed Rose Gottemeoller, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, recently called for the global community to “redouble our efforts to clear explosive remnants of war in post-conflict environments, from Angola to Laos to Colombia.” 

She went on to say:

In Angola, one of the most mined countries in the world, I heard from government and civil society representatives about the drastic reduction in financial support for demining. This funding drop has coincided with falling commodity prices, severely impacting the government’s ability to make up for the shortfall. 

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is playing a key role in supporting the call to action for Angola with funding and political support and we are delighted to have the support of the Canton de Berne which has also contributed funding.

But our partnerships with Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and Digger DTR are also key.  We will soon take receipt of a Digger D-250 tiller machine to accelerate work on some of Huambo’s remaining minefields and, working with GICHD, we are trialing drone technology to assist in planning the clearance of the minefields on which the Digger D-250 will be deployed.

TOWARDS AN 'END STATE'

The civil war in Angola ended in 2002. During our twenty four years in Angola, we have cleared more than 780 minefields and 21,500 hectares of land. That’s good progress but it’s not good enough for a nation that lived through a brutal civil war and is still living with landmines fourteen years after it ended.

Achieving what we call an ‘end state’ in Angola will take time, but Mozambique has shown us that it is possible with a co-ordinated approach. As Dennis Hadrick of the U.S. Department of State says:

I believe that the call to action for an end state by 2025 is achievable if we all work together. We should not be working towards our individual goals but towards a common goal of assisting the most impacted countries around the world that are affected by land mines and explosive remnants of war.

By tackling the challenge one province at a time, we can help put Angola back on the road to recovery, but we need donors – from governments to foundations and individual fundraisers - to help us in this endeavour.

Help us make Huambo the first of eighteen provinces in Angola to become mine impact free.

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