In January 1997 – five years before the end of the Angolan Civil War – Princess Diana visited Angola’s minefields bringing huge international attention to the issue for the first time.
Yet more than twenty years on, Angola remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Most of the estimated 500,000 to one million landmines that were laid during the war still litter the landscape. This means parts of the country cannot be farmed or developed, helping to keep many villages and towns in extreme poverty.
On this International Landmine Awareness Day on April 4 – which, fittingly, is also the anniversary of the end of Angola’s civil war – we’d like to share some of the stories of those living in one village, Luconha, to show what can be achieved.
Thanks to the public donating over £200,000 to MAG’s Walk Without Fear appeal, which was doubled by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) for mine action in Angola, the area around this village is soon to be cleared of landmines.
Josefa, 17, was just a year old when the war ended. The village she was born into, Luconha, in the heavily-mined Moxico Province in the east of Angola, had been ravaged by conflict for decades. But despite a life lived mostly in peacetime, Josefa was not able to live without being afraid for herself and her family. In Moxico, there are 243 known minefields.
“We were always worried that we could step on a mine,” she told us. “They kill and injure.”
As the eldest, she is responsible for her siblings and cousins while the adults farm.
“I always tell them to stay where it is safe,” she says. “But they don’t!”
The land around Luconha is now due to be cleared of landmines. We asked Josefa’s small cousins what they would look forward to most once the land was landmine free. They said: “playing football!”
Maria was forced to move around Angola several times to avoid the fighting. She admits it was not easy making the decision to finally move to Luconha, where she now lives with her daughter and seven grandchildren, as it was an area known to be heavily mined.
“We had a lot of fear,” she told us. “But because of the economic pressure we came. We had to.”
Maria grows and collects tomato, okra, maize, and cassava. She also collects mushrooms from nearby. Daily activities such as this, however, pose a constant risk as there is only one path to collect food, water and firewood that the community feels is safe. Only a few weeks ago MAG deminers removed four landmines within a metre of that path to make it safe.
In 2017 MAG gave back 56 million square metres of land to communities in Moxico, removing 1800 landmines and unexploded bombs, and helping an estimated 99,000 people.
When asked what it would mean for landmines to be cleared from her area, Maria said simply: “it means our land is being given back to us”.
These stories show the mixed emotions of fear and hope felt by communities living near landmines.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, once said that “peace without mine action is incomplete peace.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in Angola whose people have been regularly killed and maimed for 16 years while ostensibly living in peacetime.
Despite more than 88,000 Angolans living with disabilities caused by landmine and unexploded bomb accidents (a figure that is rising every week), international funding for mine clearance in Angola has dropped by 90 per cent in the last 10 years.
But there is some cause for hope. The UK has recently pledged to give Angola some of the £100m it has earmarked for mine action over the next two years. Japan also funds life-saving operations in the country.
Angola has committed to become landmine-free by 2025, but for this to happen – and for all Angolan communities like Luconha to be able to live without fear – more international governments will have to step up and commit much more to Angola's future.
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