History of Minelaying
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 in an attempt to prevent insurgents from moving in and out of the country for training and re-supplies.
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.
Despite clearance conducted by the military demining squadron, Zimbabwe currently has just over 200km2 of ground assessed to be impacted by landmines.
This includes 381km of cordon sanitaire frontage and 538km of mixed directional fragmentation mine/ AP mine frontage. Roughly 130 linear kilometres of mine belt has been cleared but there have been numerous post clearance accidents and the entire area requires reassessment.
Of the 200km2 affected, 174km2 is fertile land largely owned by the poor rural communities farming in the border regions. 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. They estimate that over 120,000 head of livestock have been killed by mines over the same period.
Even though it receives very little publicity Zimbabwe is one of the most highly mine-impacted countries in the world in terms of area affected and density of mines. The humanitarian situation is still very much that of a country in the immediate post-conflict phase. There are mines in immediate proximity of houses, schools and clinics; access to agricultural land is denied to small scale farmers and livestock are killed weekly; communities are separated from their primary water sources.
Zimbabwe is a signatory of the Ottawa Convention and, by January 2015, must produce a detailed plan of how it will achieve its Convention undertakings.
HALO’s survey teams are working to refine the information on the extent of the problem while demining teams are now clearing areas of the highest humanitarian priority.
HALO has been given initial responsibility for survey and clearance of the border minefields running from Musengeli in Mashonaland Central to Rwenya in Northern Manicaland, some 139km2 in total.
Zimbabwe is one of the world’s most highly mine impacted countries and the time and resources required to deal with it will be correspondingly large. It will be possible to make more accurate estimations of time and cost once the current phase of survey has been completed and more clearance has been undertaken to establish mine density, clearance challenges and corresponding clearance rates.
Requirement for Continued Clearance
In addition to the existing survey and clearance teams, HALO is seeking to train and deploy hundreds of additional deminers and aims to grow the programme to 1,500+ national staff by the end of 2015. To achieve this, additional donor support is required.
HALO Zimbabwe is generously supported by: the US Department of State Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA), and the Governments of Japan and Ireland, the Julia Burke Foundation and Actiefonds Mijnen Ruimen.