I was recently in Angola – one of the most heavily mined countries in the world – and saw for myself the importance of clearing these hidden killers as quickly as possible.
Despite the country’s massive landmine problem, funding for clearing them has, incredibly, dropped by 90 per-cent in the past ten years. There was a real danger that we would have to stand down some of our mine clearance teams in the country.
Thankfully, the British public stepped in to help us. Through the Department for International Development’s (DFID) Aid Match campaign, where the British Government matched the money donated by the British people, a lifeline was provided to the people of Angola and the first Aid-Match funded project started this month.
When I visited the Angolan villages of Lucusse and Luconha, I saw how landmines are a part of everyday life, lingering in the ground just a few metres away from houses and children’s play areas. The people living there told me of the impossible choices they are forced to make every day – should they risk life and limb by farming land that could contain landmines, or condemn their family to go without food?
Many of the children and young people that I spoke to are in constant fear, living with the knowledge that their next step could result in death.
But things are changing, especially now that our teams can continue working day in, day out, to make land safe. It was a joy to hear people’s relief at knowing that land nearby was being cleared of landmines.
Part of the reason Angola is overlooked by international funding is due to the misconception that the country is rich. But a brief economic boom brought about by oil had little or no impact on the poor rural communities beyond the capital city.
The truth is that it is the poorest Angolan communities – where many people live on less than £1.50 per day – who suffer the most from landmines.
For many, agriculture is critical to survival and land that is littered with landmines is essentially useless. These are the places where we focus our efforts. It is amazing to see the land we clear put to good use as fast as it is returned to communities.
The impact of landmine clearance is clear to see. In the areas we have cleared, the population has grown by 25 per-cent in five years. The appearance of new buildings, schools, churches and houses are all signs of communities coming back to life.
I also had the pleasure of meeting some of our first female Angolan deminers. These brave women, all hired from areas affected by landmines, will soon be making their communities safe.
Removing landmines is one of the first steps towards giving communities back their future. Often those affected have the will but not the means to clear these terrible weapons. Thanks to your generous support, we are able to provide people with the knowledge, expertise, training and equipment necessary to free themselves from the scourge of landmines.
Read more about our work in Angola here.