HALO supports Okavango Wilderness Project

The HALO Trust is supporting the Okavango Wilderness Project’s 2015 ‘Source-to-Sand’ Okavango River Expedition by hosting the team in Angola, one of the world’s most mined countries.

The Okavango Wilderness Project is a collaboration between the Wild Bird Trust and The Office For Creative Research and is generously funded by National Geographic.

The 10-week, 1,800km research expedition launches on 22 May 2015 from the source of the Cuito River, which lies in the remote highlands of Angola. It is one of the rivers that feeds the Okavango River, which flows onto the sands of the Kalahari Desert as a Delta in Botswana. The team of scientists and environmental experts will pole the full length of the Cuito River in mekoro (dug out canoes), capturing data and information about the water quality, wildlife, habitats and ecosystems. They hope to lay down the most comprehensive baseline of multi-disciplinary scientific data ever recorded for the Cuito River.

Although the Okavango’s Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its catchment and water supply in Angola and Namibia remain largely unprotected. The expedition will therefore track the Cuito River through the South East of Angola, over the border to Namibia and down into the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Angola was torn apart by a civil war, which ended in 2002, leaving a trail of landmines, weapons and unexploded ammunition. With funding from a number of donors including US, European, Japanese, Finnish and British governments, HALO has destroyed over 88,000 mines, 160,000 unexploded ammunition, and over 100,000 weapons since it started work there in 1994.

The charity has 450 local employees working from its bases in Huambo, Kuito, Menongue and Cuito Cuanavale. HALO estimates that approximately 25,000 mines still need to be cleared from Cuito Cuanavale alone, which is the site of what is thought to have been the largest tank battle since El Alamein.

Experienced HALO field officers will host the expedition, supply vehicles and escort the team as it transits through the areas that pose a risk from mines in South East Angola.

Calvin Ruysen, HALO’s Desk Officer for Southern Africa, said:

“We are delighted to be supporting this expedition as any project that helps raise awareness of the ongoing mines problem could mobilize greater support for our work and ultimately help to rehabilitate and protect more communities that have been ravaged by conflict. We have cleared over 700 minefields to date but there are still more than 500 left in the areas in which we work. The job is far from finished.”

John Hilton, Okavango Wilderness Project Director and Expedition Planner, said:

“This amazing expedition sees us travelling through some challenging terrain. The minefields of Angola pose a particular risk so it is crucial that we are well briefed and safely escorted. The HALO team is perfectly positioned to meet both these needs. We could not be in better hands and very much look forward to getting started.”

Follow the expedition live at intotheokavango.org or find out more about HALO’s work in Angola.