Angola’s wars have left behind a deadly legacy: abandoned landmines and unexploded munitions. Today, more than 2 million Angolans living in nearly 2,000 villages throughout the country face daily risks from abandoned landmines and unexploded munitions, according to the latest edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety, an annual report from the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.
These lethal relics of Angola’s war of independence in the 1960s and its 1975-2002 civil war pose an immediate dangers to life and limb, but even the suspected presence of what we call the “explosive remnants of war” can deny families access to their agricultural and grazing lands, complicate international humanitarian assistance efforts, and ultimately discourage investment and economic development.
Since 1993, the State Department has led efforts to confront these threats through the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action program, an interagency partnership that also includes the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program has delivered over $1.4 billion in aid to nearly 50 counties around the world for:
• Mine clearance projects by 63 partner organizations including the Mines Advisory Group, HALO Trust, and Norwegian People’s Aid, all currently active in Angola;
• Mine-risk education to help area residents avoid injury by identifying potential hazards;
• Research and development into new demining technologies;
• Training local demining technicians in affected countries; and
• Supporting rehabilitation programs serving those injured by landmines and unexploded munitions.
In 2008, $5.1 million in U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action aid helped Angola clear over 1.2 million square meters of land and 900 kilometers of road of landmines and unexploded munitions. Meanwhile, separate State Department grants totaling over $1.8 million also allowed for the destruction of excess weapons and safe disposal of over 220 tons of unstable ammunition stored in government stockpiles, another security hazard facing many post-conflict countries around the globe. Since 1995, the United States has contributed nearly $70 million to help in the removal of landmines and destruction of excess munitions and unexploded ordnance in Angola.
Communities are quick to benefit from areas cleared of landmines and unexploded munitions, according to a recent study of Angola’s central Huambo province by The HALO Trust. In a random sample of 30 completed demining projects, researchers discovered that 90 percent of the areas were returned to productive use within six months. As many as 21 former minefields are now used to raise maize, beans, and potatoes, much of which ends up in local markets, opening up new economic opportunities for area residents. On average, as many as 60 Angolan families on average benefitted from each of HALO’s explosives clearance projects, according to the study.
As with U.S. efforts to train and equip international peacekeepers, U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action is firmly rooted in building partnerships and capacity to tackle shared security challenges within the international community. In Angola and around the world, U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action has effectively combined diplomacy, development, and military capabilities to make a positive difference in people’s lives, representing a prime example of “smart power” in action.