In Angola, one of the most mined countries in the world, I heard from government and civil society representatives about the drastic reduction in financial support for demining. This funding drop has coincided with falling commodity prices, severely impacting the government’s ability to make up for the shortfall.
At current funding rates, Angola could now remain impacted by mines and unexploded ordnance well past 2040. By reinvigorating support for Angolan demining, we may move the deadline closer by 10, even 15 years. Think of how many lives and limbs that would save.
Remarks delivered by Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, to the 19th International Meeting of Mine Action National Program Directors and United Nations Advisors (US State Department)
Under Secretary Gottemoeller’s comments are very prescient: Angola is one of the most mine-affected countries, but the contamination is not as widespread as once feared. Through careful re-survey, the mine action operators are now able to accurately quantify and describe the extent of contamination and make plans for a landmine-free Angola. But over the last several years, the investment in humanitarian demining in Angola has faltered (commercial demining remains well-funded by the government, but is focused strictly on economic development). As a result, several mine action operators are facing tough choices in Angola. In the last couple of months, Danish Church Aid (DCA), with more than a decade of clearance experience in the country, was forced to close all operations in Angola. DCA’s clearance work directly benefited 30,000 Angolans by returning 25 million square meters of land in eastern Moxico province to productive use and brought mine risk awareness to another 180,000 people (DCA, personal communication). And that capacity is gone.
DCA’s achievements are just abstract numbers. From 1975 to 2014, the airfield in Luena, Moxico’s provincial capital saw one flight. One. The area around the airfield had been heavily mined during Angola’s civil war as both sides sought to control access to the region. When DCA started working in the area, they saw the economic benefit of re-opening the airfield as well as the importance of being able to use the airport for medical evacuation in case one of the deminers was injured. As you can see from the photos below, the airstrip has been completely redeveloped and the extensive minefield that had been just north of the runway has been reclaimed and used for housing now that the mines have been cleared. Without DCA’s work, this airfield might have remained closed and the surrounding lands dangerous.
From Google Earth: Luena Airfield in 2003
From Google Earth: Luena Airfield in 2013
The experience of DCA should be a cautionary tale to the international community. As Gottemoeller suggests, Angola could be mine-free by 2025 if the right level of investment is made in the country. But the “right level” is not the current level. Donor countries have steadily reduced their support for mine action in Angola in recent years. As a result, not only has DCA closed, but the HALO Trust reports significant decreases in capacity in Angola as its workforce has dropped to less than a quarter of what it once was. (And the United States is not entirely innocent on this issue: in FY2012, the US Government provided $9.5 million in support for mine action; in FY2013 $7.3 million; in FY2014 only $6.2 million. [State Department]) The United States has indicated it will increase support for mine action in Colombia under the Peace Colombia Plan and for Laos in advance of President Obama’s visit later this year (State Department; State Department). Hopefully FY2015 and FY2016 support for mine action in Angola will reflect the call for increased investment made by Under Secretary Gottemoeller.
I understand why countries are hesitant to invest in Angola. Angola has had the financial resources to support its own clearance obligations but has not placed a priority on humanitarian demining despite its obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. The recent collapse in oil prices has shattered Angola’s economy with subsidies being terminated and public sector employment dropping. Angola’s economic future will now depend on its ability to diversify and that diversification will include agricultural development, development dependent upon landmine clearance and the return of land to productive use. And as the simple example of Luena’s airport shows, landmine clearance works. According to a Dutch government report, 85% of demined land is put to productive use so the effort has a definite return on investment.
Another subject that comes up is the number of casualties. In 2014 there were 11 confirmed landmine and ERW casualties in Angola, as reported in the Landmine Monitor. This is a dramatic drop from the 71 reported casualties in 2013, but I do not believe the 2014 figures accurately reflect the total number of casualties. As the editor for the 2014 victim assistance report on Angola for the Landmine Monitor, I collected and reviewed the casualty data which came only from three mine action operators and only reflected casualties that they knew about in their working areas. The operators acknowledged that their information was likely incomplete and did not cover the vast majority of the country. It is completely possible and highly likely that many more casualties occurred in Angola than were confirmed in 2014. Without a comprehensive, nation-wide reporting system for tracking and recording landmine and ERW casualties, the true number of Angolans killed or injured by landmines may never be known.
I have written about Angola a few times in these pages, but will focus on the country as 2016 carries on. For your reading pleasure, below are some selections published in the past. Feel free to suggest topics you would like to see covered. Ideally, I will travel to Angola this year for some in-person reporting and coverage. Thanks in advance for your support.
Michael P. Moore
February 26, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Landmines in Angola: a Situation Analysis (commissioned by MAG America)
Already in 2016 the United States has signaled its intention to increase support to two of the most mine-affected countries, Colombia and Laos. The increased investments will enable both of these countries to be mine and cluster munition-free in a few years (State Department; CNN). There should also be consideration for increasing investments in African countries, many of whose contamination from landmine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) would be manageable with a long-term commitment of funding.
Provincial landmine clearance totals for 2015 were reported for several provinces. 2.14 million square meters of land in Cunene province, 5.4 million square meters in Lunda Sul province, 550 thousand square meters in Huambo province, and 750 thousand square meters in Kuando Kubango province were cleared of landmines by the National Institute of Demining, the Angolan Army, local government outfits and the HALO Trust (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). Cleared lands will be available for agriculture, building of roads and hospitals, and safe access to water (All Africa; All Africa). To maintain clearance capacity for 2016, the national demining association, Terra Mae, and a cadre of Angolan army sappers participated in separate training sessions (All Africa; All Africa).
Two boys were killed and a third injured by a landmine that they found and tried to dig out. The boys, all brothers, deliberately hit the mine, not realizing the potential consequences. Local officials have called for the survey and clearance of all mines in the area to prevent more casualties (All Africa).
In the Boni Forest on the Kenya-Somalia border, a landmine attributed to Al Shabaab detonated under a Kenya Defence Force vehicle killing six or seven soldiers (reports differ) and injuring three others. The continued insecurity around Boni Forest is keeping students and teachers out of school (All Africa; All Africa).
A Soviet anti-tank landmine was found beside a newly refurbished road. A country-wide explosive clearance campaign is underway in Namibia, but the area around the road was not surveyed prior to being tarred so the construction crew working on the road was lucky not to disturb the mine which dates back to the liberation war in Namibia (All Africa).
A tenth of Egypt’s arable land is contaminated with landmines, most, some 17.5 million, dating back to the battle of El Alamein in World War II. A second wave of mine-laying around the Suez Canal and Sinai Peninsula took place between 1956 and 1973 resulting in another 5 million mines on Egyptian soil. In addition to preventing agriculture, the mines impede development and exploitation of Egypt’s natural gas reserves. Since 1990, 3,200 people have been killed and over 4,700 have been injured by mines. Egypt has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty for a variety of reasons and remains one of the most significant hold-outs to the Treaty (All Africa).
The Italian government pledged 250,000 Euros for landmine clearance and mine risk education in Sudan. The funds will support clearance of 900,000 square meters of land in Kassala province and educate 5,000 people on landmine risks (All Africa). The contribution is part of the $12.4 million sought for mine action in Sudan by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). If the mine action sector were to be fully funded, Sudan could be landmine free by 2019 (Star Africa).
Three Malian soldiers were killed by a landmine when their convoy struck the mine near the northern city of Gao (Sahelien).
The HALO Trust, freshly off its role in creating a landmine-free Mozambique, has launched a modest victim assistance program focusing on providing prosthetic limbs to landmine survivors in Mozambique. In October 2015, 14 survivors were taken to Zimbabwe for measurements for custom prosthetics. The prosthetics were made by the Bulawayo-based prosthetist, Noordan Cassim, and then transported the hundreds of kilometers to Mozambique for fitting. All 14 survivors have received their prosthetic limbs which would have cost hundreds of dollars had the survivors purchased them (TakePart). While the program is commendable, I think it says a lot about the quality and available of prosthetics in Mozambique if survivors must travel to a neighboring country for measurements.
A Maasai herder was killed by a landmine near the military academy at Lesekekwa Meser. The area around the academy is supposed to be a secure area, but Tanzania, as a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, should have cleared all anti-personnel mines that might have been near the training ground (IPP Media).
Nigeria / Cameroon / Niger
The Boko Haram insurgency is affecting all three of these countries, and Chad, as the group shifts its tactics territory-holding to asymmetrical warfare. Following a similar playbook to that of Al Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram is using improvised explosive devices and hit and run tactics to sow chaos and confusion. In partial response, the United States government has granted 24 used Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles to the Nigerian army. Coming from Afghanistan and Iraq, the MRAPs are part of the same program leading to the militarization of domestic police forces in the United States. Of course, had the Nigerian army checked the warranty before accepting delivery, they would have noticed that some of the MRAPs are not in usable condition and replacement parts will need to be ordered and purchased from manufacturers in the States (All Africa). However, the need for mine-resistant vehicles for use against Boko Haram is clear. Five members of the a local security force in northeastern Nigeria were killed by a landmine and four others injured when their pick-up truck struck a landmine believed to have been place by Boko Haram (Today).
In neighboring Cameroon, the Minister of Communication reported that there had been at least 12 landmine attacks by Boko Haram in Cameroon in 2015 (Business in Cameroon).
In Diffa, Niger, six Nigerien soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine (Med Africa Times).
Two Libyan soldiers were killed and a third injured by a landmine in Benghazi (Arabs Today). In Kikla, about 50 miles southwest of Tripoli, a civilian was injured by a landmine placed in the city’s center. Other mines remain in the city and the local governing body has warned displace residents from returning until they are cleared (Libya Observer).
Handicap International has resumed its landmine clearance program in the Casamance region of Senegal after a three-year suspension of work. The group aims to clear 55,000 square meters by August 2016 (ReliefWeb).
A member of a military engineering group was injured by a landmine during clearance and destruction near Jebel Ouergha in Kef (Mosaique FM).
Two Sahrawis were seriously injured by an anti-tank landmine near the berm separating Western Sahara into the western, Moroccan-controlled region and the eastern, Polisario-controlled region. Two other passengers in the car escaped unhurt (MAP Independent News).
By the end of 2015, the Algerian army had managed to clear its one millionth landmine. Since 2004, almost 10 million hectares of land have been cleared (All Africa).
Michael P. Moore
February 16, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org