ANGOLA: Helping conflict-affected communities to escape poverty

from Mines Advisory Group
Published on 01 Apr 2010 View Original
Along with thousands of other Angolans, 48-year-old Jurindo Hishika, his wife and their five children fled his homeland during the last years of his country's civil war.

Hailing from Angola's eastern Moxico province, Mr Hishika's family were beset by violence during the conflict. Much of the heavy fighting between rebel group UNITA and Angolan government forces erupted in that region during UNITA's last stand. For their own safety they had to flee.

In 2002, close to Chifoio village in Moxico, UNITA's leader Jonas Savimbi was killed, eventually leading to the end of Angola's devastating civil war.

Keen to restart their lives Mr Hishika and his family were finally able to leave the Zambian refugee camp they'd fled to and return home. But, when they got back to the village they found the area heavily contaminated by deadly landmines.

All over the world people returning to communities in areas affected by armed conflict face this debilitating situation. Indifferent to ceasefires and indiscriminate in claiming their victims, landmines and all types of unexploded ordnance (UXO) such as mortars, grenades and cluster munitions deny people access to land that offers the opportunity of food, shelter, work and education - the essential development tools.

While the problem of landmines and UXO posing a lethal barrier to development is a global one, in Angola, one of the most heavily landmine-contaminated countries in the world, the problem is extreme.

A survey conducted in 2007 shows an estimated 2.4 million Angolans are still at risk from landmines, with many of the country's regions contaminated.

The UNHCR's official repatriation programme saw more than half a million Angolans return to their country in nine years, and more than half of these returned to Moxico province, itself the scene for much of the heaviest fighting, and heavily contaminated with mines.

Throughout the region people like Mr Hishika began trying to rebuild their lives in extremely dangerous conditions.

MAG aims to improve development prospects for as many Angolans as possible, enabling them to use all the tools at their disposal to improve their own socio-economic prospects, and rebuild the livelihoods they lost during the civil war.

One of the first steps to achieving this was to focus on clearing key roads in Moxico. Vital for increased trade, safe return of refugees from across Angola's borders, and improved infrastructure, In 2008, as MAG's clearance teams were busy working on clearing one of the main routes through the province they arrived at Chifoio, about 180 kilometres from the town of Luena [marked on the map above]. Immediately, the residents asked MAG to clear their land too.

People like Mr Hishika and his family had re-settled in Chifoio but, having seen people killed by mines, had for years been too fearful to expand their livelihoods or to use the fertile but deadly land surrounding their village.

The charity prioritised the village for urgent clearance, first ensuring Mr Hishika's house and its immediate surroundings were clear. He remembers the impact this had:

"The clearance has allowed us to return to our homes and to begin rebuilding our lives after so many years of absence. Someone from the village who was digging earth to make bricks for building a house found two landmines so we know there was danger.

"We are safe in our village now, but we are still afraid to move outside because of landmines. We are very impatient that MAG returns and clears the areas surrounding the village."

Mr Hishika's request to clear land surrounding the village, not only the village itself, distinctly illustrates how landmines and other dangerous remnants of conflict directly prevent communities' development.

"When the area around Chifoio is cleared we want to develop agriculture and build good houses," he said.

"There are people from Luena who want to come and develop agriculture here because it is a very good place for cultivating, but they cannot because of landmines," he added.

Often, therefore, it is not lack of fertile land, trade opportunities or local authority support that prevents communities in conflict-affected areas from escaping poverty, but landmines or other deadly unexploded ordnance.

This article appears in the current edition of Public Service Review magazine.