Decades ago Angola was an agricultural breadbasket – self-sufficient in all major food crops and exporting many others. But more than a million landmines have contributed to a legacy of war which has left rural communities decimated, fearful and unable to make use of Angola’s natural gifts to produce food and income to thrive.
Food insecurity is a growing concern – nearly a third of children in Angola suffer from developmental stunting as a result of poor nutrition. The primary aim for many families in rural Angola is simply to farm enough on small parcels of land to feed themselves. The prospect of growing a diverse, valuable surplus of food is a distant one.
The impact of landmines on this dire situation is not just the fear that a farming tool or a child’s footstep may trigger a detonation. In Angola, landmine contamination is often focused on rivers and roads preventing access to water and markets – essential for any agricultural economy.
The humanitarian impact of contamination is measured in the 88,000 people living with disabilities as a result of landmine injuries, or the untold numbers of Angolans who remain displaced from their homes long after conflict.
I was in Angola recently and the sight of MAG teams clearing land only a few feet from where children play is excruciating. Years ago, one of those young people was Minga (pictured below), who lost her sight mistakenly playing with a landmine when she was six. Think of that age – when that landmine was laid, she wasn’t even born.
The flip side of this intense contamination is the incredible impact that clearance has on a community. Over the last 10 years, MAG has returned almost 2,500 acres of cleared land to Angolan communities, cleared roads and river banks, and employed hundreds of people.
Let me tell you the story of the village of Luzi surrounded by four minefields cleared by MAG. In 2010, the village of Luzi was home to just 66 people. MAG cleared four minefields in the village, and it has enabled people to return and rebuild. Now the village has a population of 2,866. More than that, the village has a clinic, a school, three churches, ten shops, and more.
Rural Angola is one of the clearest examples of why we must drive towards a Landmine Free 2025. 61 countries need to get across that line – let’s enable Angola to be one of them.
As for Minga: She plans to join the MAG family in the coming year as a member of our community liaison team. Her #LandmineFree future is strong!
Jane Cocking delivered this speech at Chatham House for the event: Mine Clearance, Conservation and Economic Development in Angola, attended by HRH The Duke of Sussex. The keynote opening speech by the Duke of Sussex can be viewed here.