U.S. Support for Landmine Clearance Helps Kids Get Back to School in Angola

As we begin another school year in the United States, parents like me go through the annual rush of the revised school supply-shopping list. Pencils, paper, folders, markers and of course the ubiquitous, new backpack to hold it all together. Adding to the supply mayhem is finding the new bus stop, route or new school. But in many post-conflict countries like Angola, too many children face real risks of serious injury or death every day from landmines and unexploded munitions during their walks to school.  I recently returned from a visit to rural Angola, where I saw firsthand how U.S. funded conventional weapons destruction programs are helping Angola to tackle this serious challenge.

In 2002, Angola emerged from decades of civil war dating back to the early 1960s as one of the world’s most landmine-impacted countries. The widespread availability of landmines enabled all sides of the struggle for independence and subsequent civil war to continue laying mines throughout the period.  According to some estimates, up to 1.5 million lives may have been lost -- and four million people displaced.

As a result of nearly 40 years of fighting, all eighteen of Angola’s provinces contain landmines, artillery shells, and other unexploded ordnance, which not only pose immediate threats to public safety and security, but also hinder long-term reconstruction and development.  Angolans face daily risks to life and limb from landmines and ERW comparable to civilians in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Cambodia.

Children in Angola’s Moxico province, standing on a former mine field [Dennis Hadrick, U.S. Department of State]

The process of clearing landmines and unexploded ordnance is lengthy, costly, and inherently dangerous -- especially in a country nearly twice the size of Texas. Back in the early 2000s all personnel, equipment, and life-support was delivered by air. Driving, even relatively short distances, is measured in days, not hours. The United States has been the largest individual donor to mine action in Angola, which is the third largest recipient of U.S. mine action support in the world -- totaling more than $110 million since 1993.

Our extensive efforts have saved thousands of lives through the clearance of roads and contaminated land, as well as allowed for the safe return of families displaced by conflict.  Initial U.S clearance efforts cleared heavily mined roads and populated towns and villages allowing displaced families to return home and safely access roads, water, supplies, and agricultural land. The immediate clearance work directly contributed to the reduction of civilian casualties caused by landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Fast forward 13 years, as I did, and you would notice that much progress has been made. Thanks to the U.S. funded work by our NGO partners -- including The HALO Trust, MAG International, and Norwegian People’s Aid -- cleared land is used for agriculture, housing, and local government projects such as schools and health clinics. A fast growing economy and expansive mineral, agricultural, tourism and industrial potential are helping Angola rapidly transition from a developing country to a transforming country.

Farmers return to the land once landmines and unexploded ordnance is cleared [ Photo courtesy of Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA)]

However, much more work remains ahead. Most of the remaining landmine and unexploded ordnance contamination lies in rural isolated areas of the country, such as Angola’s central eastern Moxico province. Thousands of refugees continue to resettle in hazardous areas, sometimes directly on minefields, resulting in numerous injuries and deaths.  Land littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance prevents farming and development, restricts contact with neighboring communities, and hinders other development activities.

Traveling through rural communities there, I saw mostly outdoor schools where the students bring their own chair and gather beneath trees or some other type of manmade shelter trying to get a break from the heat.  Depending on the time of year and location, pupils deliver a piece of firewood for the teacher as a gift just like how we in the U.S. provide an apple.  Obviously, the older you are the bigger piece of firewood you are expected to supply.  But despite lacking the amenities we take for granted, these kids sit enthralled, paying close attention to the local teacher so they do not miss any schooling.

But even in rural Angola, we’re making progress.  I visited a new school built on land that was once a minefield. With U.S. support, our NGO partners at MAG cleared the area, allowing Angolan officials to build new schools for local kids. MAG completed clearance of the land in Lucusse in 2013, which allowed for the building of two schools -– one primary and one secondary. The primary school currently supports 12 teachers and 1,932 students, while the secondary school supports 13 teachers and 360 students. A total of 2,292 students now have safe access to an education thanks to PM/WRA funding and MAG’s work. This is how conventional weapons destruction not only saves lives -- it can change them.

New school built on former minefield cleared by MAG in Moxico province [Dennis Hadrick, State Department Photo]

The United States is proud to be the world’s leading provider of financial and technical assistance to help countries in Africa and around the world address the serious humanitarian challenges posed by unexploded ordnance and unsecured conventional weapons.  Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.5 billion in aid to over 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction.  These programs address not only clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, but also destruction of stockpiles of excess or loosely-secured munitions to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, and better stockpile management of munitions to prevent depot explosions that could endanger military personnel and civilians.  Our efforts have helped to dramatically reduce the world’s annual landmine casualty rate, and assisted 15 countries to become free from the impact of landmines. 

To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.

About the Author: Dennis Hadrick serves as a Program Manager in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) with the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Comments

Comments

Shane W.
|
New York, USA
October 9, 2015
I hadn't thought about how mines and unexploded weapons are such a barrier to children getting an education. It makes me feel profoundly thankful that my only "barriers" to getting my kids to school are heavy traffic and running late in the morning. The projects and programs explained in this blog show how important it is to invest in weapons destruction efforts in countries that have emerged from conflict.
MAG Angolan deminer in Moxico province [photo courtesy of MAG International]
Posted by Dennis Hadrick
September 14, 2015

.

Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more

Pages