Blogging Angola: Angola’s Mine-Free Future in Doubt

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.

Photo 5-01 Decline

The decline of demining capacity in Angola for the international NGOs; from a presentation by the HALO Trust

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.

Photo 5-02 MAG Lot

Vehicles gone idle on MAG’s lot for want of demining teams

And the longer equipment goes idle, the harder it is to keep up because oil dries out, parts rust and drivers leave.

Photo 5-03 HALO Lot

Vehicles and demining equipment gone idle on HALO’s compound for want of clearance teams

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


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