Angola targets roadside landmines
LUANDA (AlertNet) - As Angola's notoriously dangerous rainy season approaches, a campaign by the government and United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) is targeting motorists to try to curb the scourge of roadside landmine accidents.
The wet season brings muddy roads and water-logged ditches - tempting drivers to take short cuts off the beaten track to overtake, pass broken-down vehicles or avoid potholes.
In a country littered with an estimated six million landmines, the deadly legacy of 27 years of civil war, such decisions can be fatal.
Many landmines are found on the margins of roads and are liable to shift in wet soil. As routes slowly begin to reopen in peacetime, the risks of accidents are becoming more apparent.
In 2003 there was a mine incident every second day. So far in 2004 there has been one incident every four days. Landmines have left one in every 415 Angolans disabled.
"Landmines pay no respect to peace accords," UNICEF's Representative in Angola, Mario Ferrari, told AlertNet. "Although Angolans are eagerly turning to the business of nation building, they continue to feel the ferocious force of war."
No one knows this more so than four-year-old Celna.
The end of civil war in 2002 had opened up many new routes across the country and an excited Celna was travelling in a crowded minibus with her mother, Cristina, to visit her grandmother for the first time.
En route, their minibus got stuck behind a car moving too slowly and the driver - taking an enormous risk both to himself and his passengers - took to the shoulder of the road to overtake.
A massive explosion ripped through the bus, instantly killing Celna's mother and five other passengers.
The blast threw Celna from the vehicle, leaving her with head injuries and in shock. It took two hours for medical help to arrive, during which time Celna cuddled her mother's corpse.
"I lost a wife and Celna lost a mother," said Celna's father, 33-year-old Arnaldo Camolocongue.
As coordinator of Cuidado da Infancia (Care for Children), a local UNICEF-supported organisation, Camolocongue has devoted himself to mine-risk education since his wife's death.
The government's campaign, launched on October 22 across seven of Angola's most heavily-mined provinces, will enlist 540 trainers, the national police, the Angolan Army, motorist groups, the boy scouts and NGOs.
These "mobilisers", acting under the banner "We Stay on the Right Path", will train drivers about the dangers of landmines on roads, positioning themselves at strategic entry and exit points of major towns and cities, at bus and truck stops and police controls.
UNICEF hopes its message will reach 30,000 drivers in the first five days of the campaign. For the next six months it will hammer home the risks via TV, radio and a network of other organisations.
"This campaign is of huge importance to Angola as well as to me," Camolocongue said. "Drivers must know of the dangers they face when they leave cities, and passengers must be persuaded to tell their drivers to stay on the right path. This is such an important campaign."
Landmines have had a devastating impact on Angola's reconstruction. Hidden in fields, roadsides and even on walking paths, they have cut off access to huge swathes of land for agriculture and safe water sources.
For Camolocongue, whose organisation is helping roll out the campaign, it is a fitting tribute to his wife.
"I suffered, but I feel I have to do something to help others avoid the suffering I went through. In this way I am happy to be a part of this vital campaign, because I think it will help avoid many deaths," he said.
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