By Jane Cocking
MAG’s chief executive, Jane Cocking, is in Angola where Prince Harry will meet MAG staff and once again draw the world’s attention to the country’s landmine legacy.
More than twenty years after his mother walked through a minefield here, Prince Harry is today following her steps through the town of Huambo in central Angola. Although Huambo is unrecognisable from the place Diana saw. No longer a dangerous, deserted minefield, it’s now a bustling community, where people shop, eat and children go to school.
Huambo is just one of the many communities that’s been able to come alive after landmines have been removed, allowing the people who fled during the 40 years of conflict that ripped through Angola to return and thrive.
Let me tell you the story of the village of Luzi. In 2010, just 66 people lived there – many residents had fled to Zambia, afraid to return after the war ended because of landmines. Since MAG cleared four minefields there, it’s now a busy community of over 3,000 people, with a clinic, three churches, ten shops and a school with 700 students.
Massive support from 50 governments and other donors – with special thanks to the US, EU, UK and Japanese – has now helped two generations of Angolans reclaim land stolen by weapons of a past wars. Over 25 years this funding, with the strong support of the Angolan government, has enable landmine-clearance charities like MAG to return millions of square metres of land for farming, housing and development, allowing conflict-affected communities to recover.
But places like Huambo and Luzi are just one side of the coin of Angola’s landmine legacy. Because while huge progress has been made since Diana visited in 1997, vast areas are still contaminated with landmines and unexploded bombs meaning hundreds of thousands of people are stuck in landmine-related poverty, unable to use their land.
Today, over 88,000 Angolans are living with disabilities due to landmine injuries. The majority of victims reported over the last five years have been children.
Just this month, MAG staff were called out to a small Angolan village in Moxico, where an 11-year-old boy, Venus, found an unexploded tank shell metres from the family home after digging out a rat hole. The MAG team arrived soon after to remove and destroy the device – one more catastrophe averted.
Over 100 million square meters of hazardous areas remain to be cleared in Angola— at an estimated cost of $325 million (£264 million). But overall Angola has seen international funding for landmine clearance slump in the last decade, despite a global commitment to rid the world of landmines by 2025.
MAG has been working in Angola for 25 years, but we really don’t want to have to be here for many more.
This is why Prince Harry’s visit is extremely welcome at a time when renewed international support for landmine clearance in Angola is so crucial.
Sixty million people globally still live in fear of landmines and unexploded bombs. We are calling on the public and leaders to get behind the Landmine Free 2025 campaign to ensure they are not forgotten. Read more about the campaign here.