Angola Avante – Onwards AngolaPosted: February 26, 2016
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)