Saving Lives from Deadly Minefields in Zimbabwe

5 minutes read time
The author (Michael Tirre) talks with area residents during a visit to Zimbabwe’s Burma Valley.
The author (Michael Tirre) talks with area residents during a visit to Zimbabwe’s Burma Valley.

Saving Lives from Deadly Minefields in Zimbabwe

Imagine living with your family beside a field of landmines stretching for almost 150 miles. Along Zimbabwe’s border with Zambia and Mozambique is the cordon sanitaire, 233 linear kilometers of danger, snaking along rivers and piercing through the bush. During the Liberation War of the 1970s, the Rhodesian Army laid the cordon sanitaire -- also called the “corsan” -- to prevent guerrilla fighters from entering the country, but today these hidden hazards continue to injure and kill local residents as they go about their daily lives: farming, gathering water, even walking to school.

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs sponsors a non-governmental organization, The HALO Trust, to demine the corsan and other border minefields in northeastern Zimbabwe. I recently visited HALO’s operations and brought back these photos to show how U.S. support is saving lives and making a difference to local communities, and how important it is for the international community to support demining in Zimbabwe and other countries around the world.

This photo shows a hand-drawn schematic of a minefield on the border of Zimbabwe. Technical experts agree that there are as many as 5,500 landmines per linear kilometer in the corsan, making Zimbabwe one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in the world. The topmost section of the schematic above shows the incredible density of the corsan -- each red dot is a landmine, grouped in threes, with only one meter horizontally between each triad. Belts of “ploughshare” fragmentation mines, represented by the middle section of the schematic, were later laid to reinforce the corsan.

 

During my trip, I met a local Demining Manager named July. Here he holds up part of an inert ploughshare mine during a briefing by HALO. Ploughshare mines were placed on metal stakes one meter above the ground as a visible deterrent against crossing the minefield. When the tripwire was activated, an explosive charge behind the metal plate would detonate, turning it into shrapnel.

 

In this field near Rushinga, Zimbabwe, white stakes mark the location of landmines. HALO uses white stakes to mark where landmines are found. The minefield in the photo above exemplifies the density of the corsan. Three rows of anti-personnel mines stretch as far as the eye can see. A red line has been added to make the minefield’s abrupt turn more visible. Just outside the photo’s frame, to the left of this minefield, is a primary school with the slogan “sweat breeds success.” The Department of State is proud to enable the success of young Zimbabweans by making their paths to school safer.

 

The woman above carries water from a well dug by HALO to benefit both its deminers and the surrounding populace. In the background, a man can be seen herding cattle. In some remote villages, one cow can feed the whole community. More than 120,000 cattle have been killed by landmines in Zimbabwe. As mine clearance progresses, more people, and cattle, can safely access natural resources and reach other communities.

 

The stakes mark landmines that had been moved from their original location by local people who found the mines and placed them by a tree. They did this to reduce the likelihood of someone stepping on them, revealing their efforts to mitigate the risks posed by landmines as they continued their daily lives.

 

Thanks to U.S. support and the work of HALO, this man can plow his field safely in what used to be part of the corsan. His family helps by planting seeds. Unfortunately, he knows firsthand the effects of landmines: he lost his leg in a landmine incident and now uses a prosthetic. He told us that due to the hard labor, he will require a new prosthetic in a few years. The U.S. Department of State provides funding to HALO to assist victim’s with prosthetics and other support in Zimbabwe.

 

The need for arable land is so great that local farmers improvise ways to remove landmines. A farmer on this plot burned landmines he found, which is extremely dangerous, because he needed to farm the land in order to survive. He also built his homestead within the minefield, telling his children not to play beyond the Baobab trees pictured above. As U.S.-funded demining programs make progress, Zimbabweans are able to earn their livelihoods more safely.

 Since 2012, the United States has provided more than $7.6 million for humanitarian demining in Zimbabwe. Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.6 billion to clear or destroy landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other dangerous conventional weapons and munitions in more than 95 countries. In Zimbabwe and other countries still dealing with the hazardous effects of conflict, the United States is committed to helping these communities rebuild and recover.

To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.

About the Author: Michael Tirre serves as a Frasure-Kruzel-Drew Memorial Fellow in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.