When the United States began humanitarian demining efforts in 1993, Mozambique was one of the top five most heavily landmine-impacted countries in the world, alongside Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Cambodia. Today, after 20 years and $53 million in United States support, Mozambique is on track to declare itself mine free by 2015. This partnership is transforming Mozambique from a land of hidden hazards to a prime example of successful collaboration and self-sufficiency. Once the last known landmine is removed, millions of Mozambicans can finally live and move about their country in peace and safety, though their neighbors and relatives in Zimbabwe remain menaced by these silent killers.
Despite the border that separates Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the aftermath of their tangled post-colonial conflicts left both countries littered with remnants of war. Zimbabwe became independent in 1980 after 15 years of bloody civil war, but not before the government of Rhodesia laid hundreds of kilometers of minefields along the Mozambique border and began funding RENAMO, a violent opposition group fighting against the newly established government in Mozambique. After 13 more years and the loss of nearly 1 million lives, the Rome General Peace Accords ended the fighting in Mozambique in 1992.
When the dust had finally settled, the Mozambique-Zimbabwe border was one of the most heavily mined areas in the world, and citizens on both sides of the border still share the burden of this threat in addition to their common ethnic, cultural, and linguistic ties. Fortunately, 20 years of U.S. investment in Mozambique has allowed for the clearance and safe disposal of landmines and unexploded ordnance, improved the lives of mine and unexploded ordnance survivors, and increased access to arable land and infrastructure. According to Handicap International, Mozambique had up to 60 mine accident victims reported per month in 1995. In 2012, the National Demining Institute reported three casualties in Mozambique for the entire year.
United States’ humanitarian demining support, through its mine clearance implementing partner the HALO Trust, is also laying the groundwork for sustained economic development by restoring access to badly needed arable land, water sources, and reuniting communities previously separated by landmines. Each one of the tens of thousands of landmines that is removed and destroyed brings Mozambique one step closer to achieving mine-impact free status. Furthermore, each locally-hired deminer generates much needed income and economic empowerment for his or her family and community. For example, in 2014, the HALO Trust employed a national staff of 425 Mozambicans, now prepared with hard skills, language proficiency, and professional experience that will become increasingly marketable as Mozambique advances as a key player in the global economy, as well as a lasting partner of the United States of America.
Though Mozambique will soon clear the last known minefield within its borders, these same minefields continue into Zimbabwe and continue to severely impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans and Zimbabweans alike. In response to this acute need, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) provided funds in 2012 for the HALO Trust to expand its humanitarian mine action program along the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border into Zimbabwe, where a mine density ratio of 3,000 landmines per kilometer is devastatingly typical, making the Zimbabwe/Mozambique border minefields some of the densest remaining in the world. In 2013, PM/WRA increased its support for humanitarian demining in Zimbabwe and also began supporting Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA). HALO’s and NPA’s emerging Zimbabwe programs have already cleared thousands of landmines and returned land to previously mine-impacted communities and benefitted thousands of people. Many of the deminers live adjacent to the minefields and are directly supporting their communities by opening access to land and water resources for community development. Some local citizens are now returning to land they were evicted from over 30 years ago due to minefield construction. Finally, the United States is helping mine accident survivors along the impoverished border regions by providing custom prosthetics to increase these survivors’ mobility and quality of life.
The region’s remaining landmine contamination is a huge issue and eradicating this threat is slow and dangerous work. But with continued U.S.-support and in collaboration with the international community and the Government of Zimbabwe, our goal of a mine-impact free Zimbabwe may well be within reach. Mine by mine and meter by meter, U.S.-supported mine action programs continue to reduce the effect of landmines and unexploded ordnance on ordinary people, giving communities opportunities to thrive and saving lives.
The United States is proud to be the world’s leading provider of financial and technical assistance to help countries address this serious humanitarian challenge. Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.3 billion in aid in over 90 countries to really advance this effort and help overcome threats from landmines and explosive remnants of war. These include unexploded bombs, artillery shells and mortars, as well as the destruction of excess loosely secured or otherwise at-risk weapons and ordnance. Our efforts have helped to dramatically reduce the world’s annual landmine casualty rate, and even assisted 15 countries around the world to become landmine-free. Humanitarian demining in countries like Mozambique helps set the stage for post-conflict recovery and development, and is one way the United States is working to promote international peace and security.