A landmine-free Angola is possible by 2025, but it will require the international community to re-engage and support demining at a substantially increased level. Much investment has already been made and equipment should not be left idle. Do recent announcements of funding for landmine clearance in other countries mean that more funds will be made available for Angola?
Angola is, by any measure, one of the most mine-affected countries in the world, but it does not have to remain that way. With the proper investment by the national government and international donors, all of Angola’s 18 provinces could be clear of landmines by 2025. Three separate groups are engaged in mine clearance: the government of Angola represented by the National Demining Institute, the Border Police, the President’s special unit and the engineering brigades of the Angolan Armed Forces; national NGOs like Terra Mãe and APACOMINAS; and the international NGOs. Of late, the international NGOs have suffered a significant drop in funding. All four of the international NGOs that started working in Angola in 1994 are operating at less than full capacity and one, the German firm MgM, has no demining staff at this time. A fifth organization, DanChurchAid, started working after 1994, but was forced to close operations at the end of 2015 due to lack of funding.
Of the three international operators still standing – the HALO Trust, MAG and Norwegian People’s Aid – each faces further funding reductions and commensurate staff cuts. Across these four organizations, more than 1,100 operational staff have been lost due to funding cuts, leaving less than 500 deminers available for clearance duties. At the same time, a large number of vehicles and demining equipment has been idled for want of personnel to use them.
And the longer equipment goes idle, the harder it is to keep up because oil dries out, parts rust and drivers leave.
The hazard is this: when a mine clearance operator closes down its program in a country, it is almost impossible to re-start it. The cost of re-establishing a presence is immense, especially because when an operator closes up, all of the equipment is disposed of and the former employees seek jobs elsewhere. The operator would need to purchase new vehicle, new equipment, re-register with the government agencies, hire staff, secure office space, re-establish relationships that might have been damaged with the mine action authority and train a new cadre of deminers. All of this takes time. DanChurchAid, having closed in Angola in 2015, will never come back. We can calculate the cost of the equipment and personnel, but the costs of the relationships and institutional memory lost are incalculable.
The investment in demining infrastructure has been made in Angola. Over the years, donor support has built up a massive mine clearance capacity, but continued support is needed to fully use that capacity.
During this trip I saw communities that have been freed of the scourge of landmines and the relief and gratitude was palpable. Children dressed in their school uniforms on a Saturday to sing their thanks. Families took time away from the fields – fields they were only able to work because the mines had been cleared from them – to give speeches and cheers for deminers. Everywhere we went we were welcomed and thanked for working towards a mine-free Angola.
Angola is not an impossible task. In the next couple of years the first two mine-free provinces, Malanje and Huambo, could be confirmed. Others will follow if the support continues and is expanded. The numbers are simple: At current capacity, NPA could finish clearance assignments in 16 years; with double the capacity, NPA could finish in eight years. MAG could complete clearance in Moxico Province with 15 manual demining teams in 10 years; they have two in the field right now. HALO currently has 18 teams working and it would take those teams until 2050 to complete its clearance tasks; with the same capacity that HALO had in 2008, the job could be finished in less than a decade. Between the three operators that would mean 11 of Angola’s 18 provinces could be cleared of landmines by 2025 if the investment is right; but the current trend is absolutely in the wrong direction.
Proper investment by donors would not absolve the Angolan authorities of their responsibilities: the Angolan government would need to clear the other 7 provinces to be able to achieve the national commitment to a mine-free Angola by 2025.
The United States and Norway recently created the Global Demining Initiative which has raised $105 million to clear Colombia’s landmines over the next five years. The US government also committed $90 million over the next three years for landmine and cluster munition clearance in Laos. The British government has announced additional funding for landmine clearance in Ukraine, Syria and the Falklands. And Japan has announced support for Cambodia. These are all welcome developments and leaves me hopeful for an announcement of support for Angola.
So how much is needed in Angola? Go ask the operators. They can tell you. And these should be your measures when you hear the number: What is a landmine-free future worth? What is the value of a life lost to a landmine after December 31, 2025?
Michael P. Moore
September 29, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Syria and Yemen deservedly get the majority of the news about use of cluster munitions and landmines, but North Africa has also seen fairly widespread use of these weapons in the last few years. Beginning with the Gaddhafi regime’s use to try and hold off the liberation forces encouraged by Arab Spring, through current use by various Islamist groups, new landmine use can be seen in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria. In Libya and Sudan, government aligned forces have been alleged to use cluster munitions. The use of these weapons in these ongoing conflicts means that their effects will be felt for years to come, in countries which already faced substantial burdens of explosive remnants of war.
During World War II, British and German armies laid some 17 million landmines in the western deserts of Egypt, an area that became famous as the tank battle of El Alamein. Most of those landmines remain in the deserts and until recently have only been a threat to the nomadic communities who make the desert their home. Two people were killed and three injured by a mine in the Wasy el-Natroun area. Egypt now has plans to development much of the western desert to take advantage of the natural gas deposits that lie below the surface and has cleared 155 square kilometers of desert of mines (Daily News Egypt), but another actor has also emerged with plans for the minefields: the Islamic State. According to the former director of Egypt’s Mine Action Center, Fathy el-Shazly, there have been at least ten confirmed reports of jihadists digging up old landmines and repurposing them as improved explosive devices, the first coming in 2004. The March 2016 landmine blast in the Red Sea area was attributed to repurposed landmines. Newsweek’s story about ISIS using World War II mines is a bit breathless and sensationalized, but points to another danger of abandoned ordnance. To its credit, Newsweek also highlights the poverty of the nomadic communities in the western desert and notes that some of the nomads are tempted to dig up the old mines and sell them as they have no other form of income (Newsweek).
In the Sinai region, where the Egyptian government is fighting a separate Islamist insurgency, a policy captain was killed while chasing insurgents following a firefight and an attempted bombing of an Al-Arish police station (Ahram).
When Papias Higiro stepped on a landmine shortly after the genocide and civil war in Rwanda, his life prospects were bleak. 21 years later, Papias has received his first prosthetic leg and can fulfill his dream of walking again and will attend vocational training to become a hairdresser. This intervention was made possible by the charitable arm of AirTel, a mobile phone company (All Africa).
The government of Zimbabwe has accused three Zimbabweans living abroad of trying to destabilized the government. One of the men is accused of threatening to plant landmines on the roads to kill a thousand people (The Herald).
In recognition of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, recognized the landmine clearance efforts of the Zimbabwean army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (All Africa).
Nigerian soldiers are clearing landmines and other explosives left by Boko Haram and have arrested five members of the group who are suspected of planting some of the mines (All Africa). The local Nigerian commanders boasted of a massive demining effort covering the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, an effort made possible by the purchase and delivery of demining equipment (Vanguard).
Nigeria is not the only country affected by Boko Haram. Four Chadian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram landmine near that country’s border with Niger (Reuters).
In Libya, the army under General Haftar, has ousted Islamic State forces from the city of Sirte, but Islamic State laid many landmines and booby traps. Deminers from the army and from Libya’s intelligence services are now tasked with clearing mines and explosives which have killed over 300 soldiers and injured another 400. At least four deminers have been killed and another injured trying to clear Sirte. Five months of clearance work remains in Sirte according to a military spokesman (IRIN News). To assist the Libyan forces, the Italian government is believed to have deployed special forces to the country to train Libyan deminers (Sputnik News; Ahram).
General Haftar’s army, while calling for assistance with landmine clearance, has also not helped its own cause by using banned cluster bombs. In official photos published by the Libyan National Army (LNA), army helicopters are shown carrying the munitions, which challenges the LNA’s denial of use of such weapons in Derna and Benghazi (War is Boring).
In addition to the LNA’s cluster bombs, the Islamic State left landmines in Derna city, one of which killed a leader of the Shura Council of Mujahideen, an Islamist group that ousted Islamic State before being besieged by the LNA (Libyan Express).
In Benghazi two soldiers were killed and two more wounded at a checkpoint in the Al Gawarsha district (Libya Observer). And in Misrata, the local hospital reported three soldiers killed in two separate incidents, both attributed to Islamic State landmines (Libya Observer).
Of course, the extensive use of landmines can also backfire as seen in Sirte when an Islamic State member tried to drive an explosive laden car into Al Bunyan Al Marsoos positions and struck a landmine laid by Islamic State forces, destroying the car and causing no casualties beyond the driver (Libyan Observer).
Three Tunisian soldiers were killed and seven more injured by an anti-tank landmine in the western region of the country, near the Algerian border. The mountainous region has been a hideout for militants since the start of Arab Spring in 2011 (Press TV).
The Algerian army cleared 866 landmines dating back to the liberation war against the French. This was part of the ongoing clearance work along the borders of the country. Algeria is also facing a current threat from Islamist groups that are fighting against the government and the army. In the last year and a half, Algerian has killed or arrested hundreds of suspected Islamists and the government claims that the Islamists have mostly been defeated and the government is now trying to consolidate its position and make the affected areas safe for the population. The government reported the seizure of two landmines that were believed to have been intended for use along the country’s roads. In just such an incident, four civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a mine attributed to Islamist groups (Strategy Page; Defence Web).
Michael P. Moore
September 26, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Later this year, the Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) will take place and for another year, nothing will be done to curb or regulate the use of anti-vehicle landmines, or Mines other than Anti-Personnel Mines (MOTAPM) in treaty parlance. The humanitarian impact of these weapons is clear. In the first six months of 2016, 84 people were killed and 136 injured by anti-vehicle mines in 17 different states and territories (GICHD-SIPRI).
From August 31 to September 2, the CCW members held a preparatory meeting for the Review Conference and anti-vehicle mines came up as an issue. According to Reaching Critical Will, Ireland called for continuing work by a group of government experts to discuss the anti-vehicle mines and the applicability of international humanitarian law on these weapons, especially in terms of detectability and limiting the humanitarian harm they cause. Several states supported the Irish proposal, but several opposed the continuation of the group of experts. The Russian delegation went as far as to say that a detectable anti-vehicle landmine would lose its military value and be pointless (Reaching Critical Will). I don’t agree with the first part of the Russian statement, but I support the idea that anti-vehicle landmines are pointless, detectable or otherwise.
In advance of the preparatory meeting, GICHD published the report from a November 2015 meeting on anti-vehicle mines which served as some of the context for the meeting. One of the most interesting points to me from the November meeting was a statement from the HALO Trust about its demining work in Somaliland. According to the Trust, many of the landmines in Somaliland are minimum metal content anti-vehicle mines which are very hard to detect and require slower, manual demining methods. Had the mines been detectable, Somaliland could have been mine-free in 2012 and the international community would have saved US $30 million in additional clearance costs. Instead, there are 180 hazardous areas remaining, most of which are roads which cover over a thousand kilometers. Since 2012, 50 people have been killed or injured by landmines, including many anti-vehicle mines, which shows the continuing humanitarian impact of non-detectable anti-vehicle mines (Landmine Monitor 2014 and forthcoming).
Michael P. Moore
September 22, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
To clear Angola’s landmines, we should be ready to embrace every tool at our disposal.
Most demining firms rely on metal detectors to find mines and several use dogs. The HALO Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Mines Advisory Group all use metal detectors in their work in Angola. During my visit to Angola, one group I did not get to see in action was APOPO.
APOPO is the Belgian demining firm that uses mine detection rats, “Hero Rats,” and is active in Mozambique, Cambodia and now Angola. In Angola, APOPO is something of a subsidiary to NPA and all of APOPO’s staff, limited to trainers and handlers of the rats, are actually NPA employees. NPA trains the deminers that clear the mines found by the rats and provides all of the logistical and administrative support needed to deploy the rats, which are paid for by APOPO. According to NPA’s Country Director in Angola, the rats actually sped up clearance rates in the province where they were used. Until the end of May, APOPO’s work was supported by the European Union and APOPO’s own resources. Now, APOPO’s work is coordinated with the deminers supported by the Japanese Embassy. The US State Department has been reluctant to fund APOPO for a number of reasons: 1) APOPO is well-resourced by the Belgian government and individual donors, 2) rats have not been accredited under international mine action standards as an official tool for mine detection, and 3) no independent evaluation of the rats’ capability and accuracy in mine detection has been published. There are grumblings within the community about the attention the rats are able to generate in the media, but if they work, I am happy to see another tool in the toolkit. Certainly I prefer the rats to the “Mine Kafon” which seems to get an equal amount of attention but has yet to clear a single mine whereas APOPO finished clearance in Mozambique’s Gaza province ahead of schedule.
Michael P. Moore
September 20, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Two stories this month, one from Libya and one from Sudan, remind us of the dangers of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). In Libya, an experienced and knowledgeable deminer was killed in the line of duty; in Sudan some children played with an unexploded munition with tragic results. Mine risk education is a vital part of mine action, but despite the numerous warnings in Sudan, people, including children, continue to tamper with mines and ERW. However, even those most aware of the risks of explosive devices can still fall victim to them. The lesson is this: the sooner all such items are cleared and destroyed, the sooner we can all live a little more securely. On to the news:
The low price of oil has created a serious economic crisis in Angola. Many government subsidies have been cut as revenues from oil have evaporated. However, the Minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration stated that programs benefitting some of the most vulnerable Angolans, including landmine clearance, will continue (All Africa).
The deputy governor of Cabinda province, Angola’s hub for oil production, announced that between 2008 and 2015, 2.1 million square meters of land had been cleared of mines, along with 586 kilometers of road (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, 41,000 square meters of land were cleared in the first half of 2016 (All Africa).
In areas liberated from Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, returnees are unable to farm their lands for fear of the landmines placed by Boko Haram. This is one of the factors that is creating a famine with two million people needing food aid (All Africa). In Borno state, personnel from Medicins Sans Frontieres were involved in a landmine incident that went unreported until a Nigerian army convoy was ambushed by Boko Haram in the same area a few days later (Trends).
Four people were injured in the Kenyan town of Mandera, near the border with Somalia, by a landmine blamed on Al Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group which has been expanding its geographic reach. The mine was placed near a communications tower as an ambush (All Africa). After the ambush, Kenyan soldiers were accused of attacking and looting the town of Lafey in retaliation for the death of one of the soldiers during the ambush. This is one of many incidents in which military forces fighting Al Shabaab have killed or injured civilians, civilians who are just as traumatized by the acts of Al Shabaab (All Africa).
A Libyan deminer, the Chief of Explosives for Operation Dignity in Benghazi, was killed trying to defuse a landmine. The deminer had previously escaped injury when the car he was in drove over a landmine in May and he had just recently completed a demining course in the United Arab Emirates (Libyan Express). The Libyan forces, led by General Haftar, have suffered many injuries from landmines laid by retreating Islamists. Four special forces members were killed by a landmine in Benghazi’s al-Gwarcha district as the army tries to fully control the city (Daily Mail).
In Zimbabwe the HALO Trust employs a number of female deminers as part of its equal opportunity policy in hiring. For many women in the Mukumbura region where the HALO Trust is working, few formal employment opportunities exist and, thanks to the training and focus of the deminers, female deminers can support their families and build houses (News Day).
Three separate blasts from unexploded ordnance occurred in North Darfur. In the first, two women were killed and a man injured; the survivor lost his hands and feet in the blast (All Africa). In the second, a farmer was killed when he struck an explosive while plowing his fields (All Africa). In the third, two children were killed and a third injured when they played with a munition and tried to set it on fire (Strategy Page).
The government of the Netherlands committed 45 million euros to landmine clearance. In Africa, the Dutch will support demining in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan (Netherlands Times).
The British charity, Find A Better Way, sponsored a dozen trauma surgeons from mine-affected countries to attend a seminar at the Imperial College of London to learn about the latest research and advice for treatment of traumatic amputations. Algeria was among the African nations represented at the seminar (Imperial College of London).
The European Union proposed to shift some development funds to improving the security sector in African and Middle Eastern countries. According to a EU Commission spokesperson, one of the ways these re-allocated funds could be used is for demining by national armies (CCTV).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
September 6, 2016