During the Liberation War of the 1970s Rhodesian forces laid an extensive series of minefields along the borders between Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and Zambia and Mozambique to prevent insurgents from moving in and out of the country for training and re-supply.

Initially anti-personnel mines were laid in very dense belts (reportedly 5,500 mines per kilometre of frontage) to form a “cordon sanitaire”. Over time the cordon sanitaire was breached or was subject to erosion and so, in many sections, a second belt of directional fragmentation mines guarded by anti-personnel mines were laid “inland” of the cordon sanitaire.

Anti-tank mines were used extensively by the insurgents but the majority were either detonated by vehicles or were cleared in the years immediately after the war.

Even though it receives very little publicity Zimbabwe is one of the most highly mine-impacted countries in the world. The humanitarian situation is still very much that of a country in the immediate post-conflict phase. HALO’s survey of the northeast has recorded 187 minefields with a combined frontage of 425km and a total contaminated area of 28km2. There are very dense minefields in immediate proximity of houses, schools and clinics while access to agricultural land is denied to small scale farmers, livestock are killed weekly and communities are separated from their primary water sources. Eighty-seven communities representing 75,262 people are affected.

The Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre states that over 1,550 people have lost their lives to mines with another 2,000 being injured in the years since the war. Human accidents continue to occur and mines are taking a very heavy toll on livestock. HALO recorded 14 cattle accidents in 12 months along a frontage of just 1,500m. Extrapolating these numbers across the whole frontage indicates that there could be above 3,500 cattle accidents per year which would equate to over $1,000,000 lost per annum.

Very little is being done in the field of survivor assistance. Many amputees have very old and worn out prosthetics or no prosthetics at all.

As one of the world’s most highly mine impacted countries, Zimbabwe will require a correspondingly large demining effort to eradicate the problem. HALO has 150 staff at the moment, most recruited from the mine affected communities, but needs to expand this capacity by a factor of 5 or 6 in order to get the job done in 10 years. The inclusion of mechanical assets would improve productivity in areas of high metal contamination and deep buried mines. To achieve this additional donor support is required.

In addition to its demining efforts HALO is working with Cassim’s Prosthetics to provide prosthetic limbs for mine survivors.

Zimbabwe is just at the beginning of its demining lifecycle. Survey has just been completed in the northeast and clearance teams are working on some of the highest priority sites anywhere in the world. Zimbabwe needs long term support, at increased levels, to ensure that the border communities can live, work and walk to school without the immediate threat of mines.