Africa suffers from an epidemic of landmines and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) and is the most heavily mined continent in the world with at least 40 million landmines. Over half of Africa is affected and 140 million people live in countries where the risk of being killed or injured by landmines can be considered high or very high.
One of the most severely landmine infested country is 'Angola'. Just few days ago, I saw a heart-felt and a very emotional documentary on 'Country of Landmines, Angola' featured and produced by BBC Africa. The facts and gory pictures presented were so scary and frightening that it would leave even a stone-hearted human-being shudder with fear and sadness at the same time.
Here are some in-sights on one of the world's largest number of landmines infested country 'Angola'.
In 1482, when the Portuguese first landed in what is now northern Angola, they encountered the Kingdom of the Congo, which stretched from modern Gabon in the north to the Kwanza River in the south. Portugal's primary interest in Angola quickly turned to slavery. The slaving system began early in the 16th century. Many scholars agree that by the 19th century, Angola was the largest source of slaves not only for Brazil, but for the Americas, including the United States. It also became a link in trade with India and Southeast Asia.
By the end of the 19th century, a massive forced labor system had replaced formal slavery and would continue until outlawed in 1961. Colonial economic development did not translate into social development for native Angolans. Consequently, three independence movements emerged: the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), led by Jonas Malheiro Savimbi. From the early 1960s, elements of these movements fought against the Portuguese. A 1974 coup d'etat in Portugal established a military government that promptly ceased the war and agreed to hand over power to a coalition of the three movements. The coalition quickly broke down and turned into a civil war. By late 1975, Cuban forces had intervened on behalf of the MPLA and South African troops for UNITA, effectively internationalizing the Angolan conflict. In control of Luanda and the coastal strip (and increasingly lucrative oil fields), the MPLA declared independence on November 11, 1975, the day the Portuguese abandoned the capital. Augustinho Neto became the first president, followed by Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 1979.
When UNITA's Jonas Savimbi failed to win the first round of the presidential election in 1992 (he won 40% to dos Santos's 49%, which meant a runoff), he called the election fraudulent and returned to war. The Angolan military launched a massive offensive in 1999, which destroyed UNITA's conventional capacity and recaptured all major cities previously held by Savimbi's forces. Savimbi then declared a return to guerrilla tactics, which continued until his death in combat in February 2002.
THE LANDMINE PROBLEM
More than three decades of internal conflict have left Angola with one of the world's most serious landmine problems. Since no comprehensive national mine survey exists, the actual number of landmines in the country is unknown, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to around 6 million. Eight heavily mined provinces cover nearly 50 percent of the country in a band from the northwest border with the Congo to the southeast border with Namibia.
These mines were planted by combatants to destroy or deny access to Angola's infrastructure. Mines are concentrated around roads, railways, bridges, and public facilities such as schools, churches, water supply points, and health care facilities. These mines hinder humanitarian aid programs, economic reconstruction, and the resettlement of Angola's 3.8 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP). During 2000, landmines claimed 840 victims, 26 more than the previous year. Half the casualties occurred on Angola's roads, confirming that there is still no safe movement of people and goods in the country.
As per UN survey reports -
UN estimates, there are between 10 and 15 million landmines in Angola scattered across country. Complicating the issue is the fact that landmines continue to be laid in areas contested between UNITA and the FAA. In 1995, the UN estimated that 1.5 percent of the population had been injured in landmines or UXO incidents. With one amputee per 334 inhabitants (more than 70,000 victims, mostly women and children), Angola has one of the two highest rates of amputees in the world.
In the past two years, the ICRC and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) have estimated that there are at least 120 new landmine victims per month in Angola. Nearly 60 different types of landmines have been found during clearance operations.
EFFECTS OF LANDMINES & INTERNAL WAR ON ECONOMY
Angola is in economic disarray because of 27 years of nearly continuous warfare. Despite abundant natural resources, output per capita remains among the world's lowest. Subsistence agriculture and dependence on humanitarian food assistance sustain the large majority of the population. In the last decade of the colonial period, Angola was a major African food exporter. Because of severe wartime conditions, including extensive laying of landmines throughout the countryside, agricultural activities have been brought to a near standstill and the country is now forced to import most of its food. Thousands of miles of riverbanks, and tens of thousands of acres of farmland, pastures, and forest are now unusable.
In addition, the landmines have lead to a large migration of people from the countryside to towns and cities. The increased numbers of people in certain parts of the country place a strain on the resources of the land. Areas where refugees have been forced to move have been stripped of wood and wild game while water supplies have been depleted and contaminated leading to increases in reported cases of dysentery, malaria and cholera. In time the areas will be prone to desertification as the land is further stripped by the refugees in their attempts to survive.
Some efforts at agricultural recovery have gone forward, notably in fisheries, but most of the country's vast potential remains untapped.
ONLY SOLUTION POSSIBLE
In short, the Angolan landmine situation severely disrupts almost all aspects of the countries environment because landmines are a pollutant to humans, animals and fauna alike. For the time being the laying of landmines has stopped in Angola, but it continues at an alarming rate in other parts of the world and there seems to be no foreseeable solution to the problem. After the integration of both sides into a unified military and government landmines pose the largest threat to a long lasting peace, and the future of Angola both environmentally and literally.
If the situation is not remedied with help from the international community Angolans will be confined to certain portions of the country which will not allow for industry and agriculture to flourish and will strain the land where landmines are not present to the point of desertification and severe species loss.
*Sources for the above write-up and some important links –
1. Country Profile 'Angola' - BBC
2. Economic conditions in 'Angola'
3. Landmine conditions in 'Angola' - US based studies