By Andrew Strike on March 7, 2018
With funding from the U.S. Department of State, The HALO Trust has launched its #100WomenInDemining project to reinvigorate humanitarian demining operations in Benguela Province in western Angola. The effort will provide valuable training, marketable skills, and stable employment at a living wage for 100 women from rural areas, where over 94 percent of the population still lives on less than $5 per day and 67 percent survive on less than $2 per day. Angola remains one of the most densely mined countries in the world, with up to an estimated 500,000 landmines still waiting to be cleared.
The #100WomenInDemining project has resumed the demining operations in Benguela Province, which is one of the most mine-impacted areas in Angola, with at least six confirmed deaths in 2017 alone. These landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other explosive remnants of war from the 1975-1992 civil war indiscriminately maim or kill the local rural population and leave vast areas chronically undeveloped due to fear of further injury. This leads to economic stagnation and chronic high unemployment, while most local families struggle for mere subsistence, and for safe access to roads, fields, and available sources of clean water.
The #100WomenInDemining will not only increase the number of trained personnel available to tackle the mine clearance problem, but it will also inject needed hard currency into the local economy and provide local women with solid career opportunities in geographical areas and sectors of the economy that have traditionally been male-dominated.
The #100WomenInDemining project will specifically promote gender equality in employment, with positions open at all levels from basic manual demining to logistical, medical, and technical support personnel, and team leaders, minefield supervisors, and a provincial operations manager to oversee the entire operation. This dedicated and highly trained workforce will increase Angola’s cadre of trained demining personnel and potentially make significant contributions to the development of Angola for years to come.
As the majority of female recruits are coming directly from the heavily mine-impacted districts of Balombo and Bocoio, the project will help to ensure that they take on a central role in the stabilization and development of their home communities. By giving local woman a say in how mine clearance operations are conducted they can become agents of positive change and actively shape outcomes for themselves, their families, their communities and their country as a whole.
One of the #100WomenInDemining’s first tasks is to clear the 80 known minefields in the Benguela area. This will create safe spaces for follow on grass-roots and government-led development projects. It will also return previously contaminated land to the community and enable more local people to transition from basic subsistence to more productive forms of labor. Lastly, such clearance operations reestablish the basic right of freedom of movement for all, preserving life, and removing the daily risk of fatal accidents.
The #100WomenInDemining project is a unique opportunity to remove the explosive remnants of war that litter Angola’s Benguela Province, whilst simultaneously putting resources back into its mine-impacted communities and empowering the women who live and work there. It will continue HALO’s important work in Angola where over the past 22 years they have destroyed more than 92,000 landmines and 162,000 items of unexploded ordnance, and cleared more than 800 minefields and 22,600 hectares of land. This work has already had a transformational impact on neighboring Huambo Province, which saw some of the heaviest fighting during the civil war and is now almost completely free of landmines, and continued investment and the hard work of the #100WomenInDemining should have a similar positive humanitarian impact in Benguela Province.
The U.S. Government has provided more than $120 million since FY1993 to support Angola’s humanitarian demining efforts and a small arms and light weapons destruction program.
About the Author: Andrew Strike is currently serving as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.