The Long Walk: U.S. Support Helps Angola in its Quest to be Free from the Threat of Landmines

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The late Diana, Princess of Wales, wears personal protective equipment while visiting a minefield in Angola in 1997.
The late Diana, Princess of Wales, wears personal protective equipment while visiting a minefield in Angola in 1997.

The Long Walk: U.S. Support Helps Angola in its Quest to be Free from the Threat of Landmines

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s walk through the minefields of Huambo Province in Angola. This one act inspired the world to take action against landmines and other weapons that continue to endanger innocent civilians in countries recovering from war. 

I recently visited Angola to join the U.S. Embassy in commemorating that iconic moment. The event was organized by the government of the Republic of Angola in concert with the non-governmental organization HALO Trust and with the support of the United States, who has been the leading advocate of this life-saving work. HALO has actively worked on demining in Angola prior to Princess Diana’s visit and continues these efforts today. 

More than 40 years of conflict rendered Angola one of the world’s most landmine-contaminated countries. Unexploded ordnance and aging weapons and munitions also pose risks of illicit proliferation and catastrophic detonation, placing thousands of civilian lives in danger. Since Princess Diana’s historic visit two decades ago, the United States has invested more than $124 million toward landmine clearance programs in Angola, which often involve very difficult, dangerous work. This tough work has sometimes been accomplished by machine, but most often meter after potentially deadly meter of ground cleared by hand.

The U.S. Embassy team attending the commemorative event was led by Deputy Chief of Mission Constance C. Arvis, who announced $4 million in U.S. government bilateral funding for fiscal year 2017. Following my visit and this recent event, it has been encouraging to see reinvigorated support to Angola by other donors; notably, Japan recently contributed $550,000 to HALO to support demining operations. In addition, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has contributed $250,000 and partnered with the United States to demine Huambo Province. The Swiss Canton of Bern matched that donation with a $250,000 pledge to expedite the time for Huambo province to finally become free from the impact of mines.

Children safely walk to school past a minefield at Belo Horizonte, Bie Province, Angola.

U.S. programs in Angola are carried out by three major NGO partners: HALO, Mines Advisory Group, and Norwegian People’s Aid. Clearance of these hidden hazards gets farmers back to their fields, kids back to school, and goods to market. 

Another important facet of the work we support in Angola is mine risk education -- teaching local communities how to identify, avoid, and report dangerous materials they may find. Finally, safely destroying or reducing at-risk and excess munitions keeps weapons out of the wrong hands, contributing to regional security and stability in the future. 

Working together with several countries, our support to Angola is making a difference: Huambo province is close to being declared mine free, possibly as soon as 2018. The United States and its NGO partners will continue to work to draw international attention and funding to help Angola meet its goal of becoming mine free by 2025 and allow Angolans to walk the earth in safety.

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: Dennis F. Hadrick serves as a Program Manager in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) with the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. Michael Tirre, a Frasure-Kruzel-Drew Memorial Fellow in PM/WRA, also contributed to this article.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.