Benguela Province is situated in the west of Angola, where more than 50% of its 600,000 population live in rural communities. Landmines were used extensively here by both sides in the protracted civil war between 1975 and 2002, often to protect military bases and key items of infrastructure, as well as to prevent the movements of people and vehicles (both civilian and military) along roads, tracks and footpaths. Minefields comprised of both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines were also laid around buildings, villages and towns where troops were billeted.
After the war ended, the majority of the rural population resumed subsistence farming, but investment in agriculture and new methods are often beyond the means of traditional farmers with over 94% of the population living on less than $5 per day and 67% surviving on less than $2 per day. Despite Angola’s renown oil wealth, approximately 4.9 million people, or just under a quarter of Angola’s population, are undernourished, with the average life expectancy standing at just 51 years at birth.
The HALO Trust has been working to clear landmines in Angola for over 22 years, destroying more than 92,000 landmines and 162,000 items of unexploded ordnance, and clearing more than 800 minefields and 22,600 hectares of land. This had led to a transformational impact in urban and rural areas that were severely impacted by conflict, such as the cities of Huambo and Kuito. Indeed, Huambo Province, which saw some of the heaviest fighting during the civil war, is now almost completely free of landmines, with just a handful of hazardous areas waiting to be cleared. This stands as an example of how well-supported and targeted mine clearance can result in inter-generational improvements to the lives of thousands of people, providing opportunity, security and development. As a result, HALO is now beginning to refocus efforts on other landmine-impacted communities by reopening operations in Benguela Province with the aim of replicating a similar positive humanitarian impact.
More than 80 known minefields are situated in Benguela. By using the 100 Women In Demining In Angola project as the catalyst for restarting demining operations in the province, HALO will create safe spaces for both grass-roots and government-led development. This will enable local people to expand use of local resources without fear of injury or death caused by landmines and other explosive remnants of war that litter the areas close to where they live and work. It will permit previously contaminated land to be returned to communities, empowering them to utilize it in accordance with their most essential needs. It will reestablish the basic right of freedom of movement for all, preserving life and removing the prospect of accidents as a threat to the daily existence of local people.
Through the employment of 100 Angolan women in a variety of positions and departments, HALO will provide stable employment and salaries to local women, injecting badly needed monetary inputs into rural economies. This will also create a greater gender balance in a traditionally male-orientated sector, ensuring that the perspective of women and their specific needs become an integral element of the mine clearance process. It will provide experience, skills, knowledge and training in medicine, strategic planning, logistics and management to people who have had vastly limited employment opportunities due to their place of birth and economic status. Furthermore, it will enhance the standing of women in their communities, making them the agents of change and providing them with a central role in shaping the prospects of those communities for the foreseeable future. Finally, it will create a dedicated and high qualified workforce which has the potential to make significant contributions to the development of Angola for years to come, both as employee of HALO and beyond.
The 100 Women in Demining in Angola project is a unique opportunity to remove the explosive remnants of war that litter Angola’s Benguela Province, whilst simultaneously putting resources back into its mine-impacted communities and empowering the women who live and work there. It also represents yet another important step towards achieving the goals of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and a mine-free Angola by 2025.