Between 1975 and 2002 Angola suffered one of Africa’s longest and deadliest civil wars fuelled by Cold War rivalry. During this time 1.9 million people faced famine and over one million people were displaced.
The fighting left a legacy of landmines and ammunition, which have cost thousands of lives with an estimated 80,000 injured.
HALO has been working to clear landmines in Angola for almost 23 years. With the right resources, Huambo Province may soon be the first ‘mine impact free’ province. However, in other provinces there is much more work to be done and many vulnerable people continue to endure the daily threat of landmines. Rural Angolans living near minefields are particularly at risk, prevented from using their land safely for housing or crops and often having to cross minefields or use mined paths to collect water or firewood.
Despite the scale of the landmine problem, funding for HALO’s programme in Angola has reduced dramatically over recent years. We currently employ 300 Angolan staff, but seven years ago our staff numbered over 1,100. This decline in capacity has slowed progress. We can rapidly increase the size of our work force and clear Angola’s minefields more quickly if we can raise more funding.
While HALO’s mine clearance has been essential in allowing provincial capitals to be rebuilt, our work is now targeting poor rural areas where Angola’s minefields impact vulnerable communities. There are more than 670 minefields mapped and recorded in the ten provinces we currently operate in (Bengo, Benguela, Bié, Cunene, Huambo, Huila, Kuando Kubango, Kuanza Sul, Luanda and Namibe). Our priority is to help those who face the threat of mines each day.
We have destroyed more than 97,000 landmines and 164,000 items of unexploded ordnance. We have cleared more than 860 minefields and 2,750 hectares of land. We have also used pioneering systems to open safer access along 7,650km of road, enabling emergency aid agencies to reach vulnerable communities cut off by anti-tank mines.
We are the only non-governmental organisation supporting the Angolan police and military in destroying unwanted weapons and ammunition, with over 125,000 weapons, 2.9 million bullets and 1,480 metric tons of degraded ammunition destroyed across the country. This has significantly reduced potential unplanned explosions and armed violence.
Although much has been done, the problem is still very large where we work. As a result of funding cuts, rural communities that have already waited decades for mine clearance may now have to wait decades more, unless levels of funding increase. We are extremely grateful to the United States Department of State but we are urgently seeking additional funding to take the staff numbers back up over 1,100.
If we can achieve this level of staffing, the provinces where we work could be free of mines within 10 years.