GETTING MINES OUT OF THE GROUND, FOR GOOD.

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 armored 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 organizations 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.

The landmine problem in Angola is extensive and requires a degree of scale in order to clear all known minefields within a reasonable timeframe.

HALO started work in Angola in 1994 and currently employs over 650 Angolan staff and 5 full-time expatriates in support, spread over five provinces. Very considerable progress is being made; even so, HALO estimates that at the current rate and capacity, clearing Angola of landmines will take at least ten more years.

One HALO innovation developed to tackle the threat from anti-tank mines on roads, and that has helped open up Angola’s road system to normal traffic, has been the Road Threat Reduction (RTR) system. RTR is a two part process. First, a large metal detector is used to systematically 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 is not classed as clearance per se but it does provide a significant reduction in threat and can be carried out at a much faster speed than clearance in order to cope with thousands of kilometers of suspect road with a low mine density threat.

Current donors are the US Department of State Office of Weapons Removal & Abatement (PM/WRA), the EC (European Development Fund), the Governments of Finland and the UK (FCO), and the Reece Foundation.

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 November 2012 HALO’s teams had destroyed more than 1,315 tons of ammunition, 483 heavy weapons systems and over 101,000 small arms / light weapons. The majority of ammunition destroyed by WAD teams consists of aircraft bombs but also includes guided missiles and cluster bomb sub-munitions.

The teams operate independently and are mobile across the entire country. They are equipped with heavy trucks and cranes to allow them to move and lift heavy weapons and ammunition and also have specialist tools for cutting weapons.

Although HALO currently employs over 650 Angolan staff, only three years ago they numbered over 1,100.

Funding for the Angolan program has reduced over the years despite the fact that the problem of landmines remains serious and widespread – over the last five years HALO Angola deminers have found and destroyed an average of 690 landmines a month.

HALO has spent over 17 years clearing landmines in Angola and, with sufficient capacity in terms of deminers on the ground, could achieve a mine free Angola within a reasonable time frame. HALO feels that this is the time to increase international funding for mineclearance in Angola so that the horrific landmine legacy of Angola’s civil war can be laid to rest and Angola’s people allowed to flourish and grow. This is the time to focus on achieving a mine free Angola so that Angolans can be able to provide their families with sufficient food and clean water, collect firewood without losing their limbs and, ultimately, move beyond a subsistence livelihood and achieve their development dreams.

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