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 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.
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, livestock are killed weekly and communities are separated from their primary water sources.
Despite clearance conducted by the military demining squadron, Zimbabwe had recorded over 200km² of ground impacted by landmines which included 381km of cordon sanitaire frontage and 538km of mixed directional fragmentation mine/AP mine frontage. Fortunately, HALO’s survey in 2013/2014 has helped to refine information and reduce the recorded area impacted.
However, thousands of hectares of fertile land largely owned by the poor rural communities farming in the border regions are affected. 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 but is suspected that these numbers are actually much higher.
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 has been given responsibility for the survey and clearance of the border minefields running from Musengeli in Mashonaland Central to Rwenya in Northern Manicaland. The affected area was initially recorded as some 139km² in total. In 2013/2014 HALO’s survey teams have refined the information on the extent of the affected area along this stretch of border by conducting survey on the ground. This survey has identified that the area affected is around 30km². HALO’s survey now gives all stakeholders a greater level of clarity on the scale of the problem.
Concurrent with survey, HALO has demining teams clearing areas of the highest humanitarian priority.
As one of the world’s most highly mine impacted countries, Zimbabwe will require correspondingly large resources to deal with the mine problem. It will be possible to make more accurate estimations of time and cost once 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 supported with some mechanical assets. To achieve this additional donor support is required.