There are an estimated 37 million land mines buried in the soil of Africa and Angola contains approximately 10 million of them. These mines are a legacy of over four decades of fighting, which spanned a 14-year war of independence against Portugal and then after independence in 1975, another thirty years of civil war between various movements within the country. By the time peace was declared in 2002, around 1.5 million people from a population of 7 million had been killed and more than 4 million forced to flee their homes.
In recent years, the country has made huge strides, thanks in large part to the wealth being created by Angola’s oil reserves, which make up more than half the country’s Gross Domestic Product and bring the government 80% of its revenues. Hundreds of miles of new roads and rail track have been laid and new buildings, both public and private, are being constructed at a vast rate.
But compared to the staggering speed in which roads, ports, railways, hotels, shopping centres, hospitals and universities are being built, one area of progress seems painfully slow – the removal of landmines. Mine removal is a lengthy and expensive procedure. Though mines can cost as little as 3 dollars to manufacture and can be spread at a rate of 1,000 per minute, it can take experts an entire day to clear 20-50 square metres of land, sometimes at a cost of 1,000 dollars per mine.
Progress is being made and farmland is being cleared at a steady rate, with money donated from various international organisations. But since Angola already has 70,000 amputees, 8,000 of whom are children, demining cannot happen fast enough.
Landmines continue to pose a huge danger to the population, particularly to the young. Naturally curious, children are much more likely to pick up the mines if they find them and when the mines explode, their small bodies succumb easily to the horrific injuries inflicted. Those children who do survive a mine explosion are often left permanently disabled. And because growing children require repeated operations as well as changes to artificial limbs as frequently as every six months, their medical needs are demanding and poorly met.
One charity in Angola, DanChurchAid, recently purchased some valuable equipment which will help with demining in Angola. The Mini Mine Wolf is an armoured machine which tills the soil and explodes mines in its path, revealing where minefields lie. The charity hopes the Wolf will speed the process of demining, which is so vital if local communities are to develop and if Angola’s children are to be protected from the terrible danger of mines.