Landmines - the hidden menace facing Mozambique

Landmines are now the hidden menace facing Mozambique, already shattered by floods that have left 1 million people homeless, Christian Aid can reveal.
The head of Mozambique's National Mine Clearance Institute, Mr Artur Ver=FAssimo said that hundreds of thousands of mines still left buried after the civil war which ended in 1992 are likely to have been moved large distances by the huge force of water which has swept over vast tracts of the country.

He believes the floods could render the previous landmine maps useless and cause widespread panic, injuries and even death when people eventually returned to their land.

"We estimate that there were two million anti-tank and anti-personnel mines laid all over the country during the war," said Mr Ver=FAssimo. "Until now we had cleared around 10 per cent of them around bridges and roads.

"But we knew where most of the remainder were and we had maps of the areas. But now these maps are likely to be useless. We are back at the starting point.

"The floods have knocked us back a decade. Things were changing - Mozambique was beginning to smile and laugh again. But now all our efforts have been wasted. This will put us back in an emergency economic situation."

Mr Ver=FAssimo said that in some areas mines could have moved long distances - a view supported by British former Royal Marine and mine expert David Thomson.

"In water plastic mines become semi-bouyant and are likely to move in strong currents. In Cambodia I saw mines which had moved up to 30 miles in floods. Looking at the pictures of Mozambique on television with the sheer force of the water they have experienced, I would guestimate that some mines could already have moved 10 or 15 miles."

The violence of water is palpable. Railway escarpments, roads, brick houses and concrete walls have been blasted away in many urban areas.

Mr Boavuentura Buene, who works for ORAM, a Mozambican group - backed by Christian Aid - which will provide essential seeds and tools to those who have lost their harvest to the floods, said families all over the flooded region could be in danger.

"The only way to find out quickly about the new mines threat will be when there are accidents. That will be the first way of finding out.

"Mines will slow down the rehabilitation process. If we find out that the first person we give seeds and tools to is killed while he is planting, then what will we do? It is a horrible situation."


Online donations can be made via this Web site to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Mozambique.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Matt Pickard, Christian Aid's programme funding officer, returned from Mozambique this morning having made initial assessments. To arrange an interview, please contact Angela Burton on 0171 523 2420 or 0850 242 950, or Eileen Maybin on 0171 523 2417 or 0410 891 395.


Copyright =A9 Christian Aid 1999