Angola loses 90% of funding to fight land mines

Angola loses 90% of funding to fight land mines


Angola still has over 1,000 minefields to eliminate, but has lost about 90% of its international funding to fight the scourge, making it harder to meet the goal of freeing the country of these devices by 2025.

In an interview with Lusa, Adriano Gonçalves, Head of the Exchange and Cooperation office of the National Intersectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH), assumes the problem: "For ten years we have been suffering declines in funding for demining in Angola," this decline is of about 90% and has had a direct impact on mine clearance activities that have been "considerably" reduced.

In addition to the reduction in funding from international donors, which have to meet "many priorities," funds from the State General Budget have also declined significantly, penalized by the fall in oil prices in 2014.

"We would like [the demining] to be done faster and more intensely," admits the official.

Therefore, Prince Harry's visit to Angola, which will lead him to visit places where his mother, Diana of Wales, was in 1997, is seen as "one of the great opportunities to show" on the ground the results of the mine action in the country.

The long periods of conflict, first in the colonial period, which began in 1961 and shortly after independence, in 1975, in a civil war that only ended in 2002, have left thousands of land mines and other unexploded devices scattered throughout the country and, despite the cleaning operations, these devices continue to make casualties.

Although the number of accidents with unexploded devices has declined, there were 37 cases in the first half of this year in which nine people died (the others were seriously injured), figures that Adriano Gonçalves considered "worrying".

This has led the government to invest in a mine and other UXO risk awareness campaign. The campaign was launched last month and is being led by the Ministry of Social Action, Family and Women's Promotion to "strengthen" prevention.

Adriano Gonçalves also justifies this increase with the "greater mobility of people" who have gone back to agriculture as a means of subsistence and are looking for agricultural land, returning "in a somewhat disorganized way," the situation is made worse by them not fearing mines.

Mines fundamentally affect civilians, and women and children in this group are the main victims, because "they go through the fields and are likely to find explosive devices at any moment."

There are an estimated 40 to 60 thousand land mine victims in Angola, a figure that the government wants to ascertain more accurately.

"We are conducting a nationwide survey of mine victims with disabilities," a project that has already allowed 10,000 victims to be counted in nine provinces, least affected by the war.

The remaining nine are those where Adriano Gonçalves believes there are higher numbers: "We are talking about Cuando Cubango, Moxico, Bié, Malanje, Cuanza Sul, among others, where the war hit the hardest," he exemplified.

Luanda is included in this group. There it is estimated that "there are very high numbers of people with disabilities" due to this type of weaponry.

The Angolan State is the main financier of demining activities in Angola through four public operators (National Demining Institute, Presidential Security House Brigades, Border Guard Police Brigades and Angolan Armed Forces Engineering Brigades), there are still four international operators (Halo Trust, Mine Advisoy Group, Norwegian Peoples Aid and APOPO).

Since 2002, more than 108,000 kilometers of roads and nearly 10,000 kilometers of power lines were cleared in the country.

"We had a country in a chaotic situation, the provinces could not communicate by land because the bridges and roads were destroyed, about 72% of the infrastructure was completely destroyed," recalls the CNIDAH official.

This was the scenario that Princess Diana encountered when she visited Angola in January 1997 on a trip that served to draw the international community's attention to the innocent victims of this type of weaponry, which was eventually banned by the Ottawa Convention.

"It was indeed a historic visit, at a time when the situation was chaotic, we had areas that were filled with mines and her presence made us raise awareness, not only in Angola, but worldwide" about the mine problem, which has "to be thought about again", argues Adriano Gonçalves.

A signatory to the Ottawa Convention, Angola has pledged to eliminate antipersonnel mines on its territory by December 31st 2025, but the CNIDAH leader is skeptical in regards to meeting this deadline.

"We are aware that the size of the problem is not the same in all states and regarding Angola we are sure we will have great difficulties in fulfilling this goal by 2025," he said, stating the government will do "all that is possible" to have the largest possible reduction of minefields, "which are still too many."

However, three provinces - Malanje Namibe and Huambo - could be declared decontaminated by the end of the year.

"We are cautious," said Adriano Gonçalves, admitting that this is his expectation, but he remains unwilling to give guarantees.

In addition to demining activities, CNIDAH focuses on other aspects, from education and risk prevention, to assistance to victims.

The commission "intervenes to ensure that this target group has acceptable medical and medicinal care", including psychological counseling "for those who suddenly find themselves in an adverse situation" and vocational training to give land mine victims new skills, the official said.