Angola is heavily contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants, a legacy of the 27 year bitter conflict that ended in 2002 following independence from Portugal.

During this conflict government forces laid extensive minefields around their bases, in and around towns and infrastructure, such as airports, dams, electricity pylons and bridges. Anti-government factions laid landmines, but usually in smaller numbers, when they gained a position or before withdrawing from a captured post.

As towns and strategic positions changed hands during the course of the war so more landmines were laid. Both sides laid a significant number of anti-tank mines. Many were emplaced to obstruct or block movement on primary, secondary and tertiary roads, others were laid to protect key positions from armoured attack. To this day anti-tank mines on roads pose a far greater problem than in any other mine affected country.

The majority of landmines in Angola were laid in and around towns and villages that now have growing economies and expanding populations. A high concentration of landmines in areas with high concentrations of people can be a devastating combination.

Landmine accidents occur when people inadvertently wander into a minefield or travel along a mined road, or find themselves doing so out of necessity. Examples are when people need to obtain resources or reach a destination. Landmines deny the ability of people to safely collect water, grow crops, graze livestock, fetch firewood and build homes. Anti-tank mines on roads deny vehicular access to entire areas and strike unexpectedly causing multiple casualties. They disrupt the movement of people and goods, civilians, aid organisations and the government.

We have conducted extensive survey of the provinces in which we operate and have identified with a great deal of accuracy the total number of minefields that require clearance, their location, size, the impact they have on the affected communities and their relative priority for clearance.

One of our major successes has been The Road Threat Reduction system, a two part process to tackle anti-tank mines on roads. First, a large metal detector is used to sweep a road to locate metal cased anti-tank mines. Secondly, a heavy detonation trailer passes down the road. The trailer is designed to detonate any minimum metal or plastic anti-tank mines still capable of operating. This system provides a significant reduction in threat and can be carried out at a much faster speed than traditional clearance, opening up Angola’s road system to normal traffic.

The landmine problem in Angola is extensive and requires a degree of scale in order to clear all known minefields within a reasonable timeframe. We started work in Angola in 1994 and currently employ hundreds of Angolan staff, plus a handful of full time expatriates.

While very considerable progress has, and is being made, at the current rate and capacity, clearing Angola of landmines will take at least a decade. This is far too long.

HALO’s WAD teams work in support of the Angolan Army, Air Force, Navy and Police to destroy the considerable stocks of weapons and ammunition that were amassed during the civil war.

By December 2014 HALO’s teams had destroyed more than 1,366 tons of ammunition, 562 heavy weapons systems and over 107,000 small arms/light weapons. The majority of ammunition destroyed by WAD teams consists of aircraft bombs, with some guided missiles and cluster bomb sub-munitions.

The teams operate independently and are mobile across the entire country, equipped with heavy trucks and cranes to allow them to move and lift heavy weapons and ammunition.

Angola is a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty but more focus on humanitarian clearance is required to make good on this commitment.

Unfortunately the problem of landmines remains serious and widespread, particularly in rural communities. HALO can be extremely specific about the location of the remaining minefields where it works, and the timeframes to clear them. Sadly, funding for the Angolan programme has reduced over the years despite the fact that HALO’s contribution to date has very much been the solution to Angola’s mines problem. While HALO currently employs hundreds of Angolan staff, a few years ago we employed over a thousand. The more demining staff we have, the more landmines can be destroyed and the more land can be safely returned to the affected communities.

There is an absolute requirement for an significant increase in international funding for mineclearance in Angola so that the horrific landmine legacy of Angola’s civil war can be laid to rest and to allow socio-economic development to follow.