Landmines: The deathly menace

A small mine, known as a “toepopper”, designed to blow a foot off. FFE is the acronym for ‘free from explosive’
A small mine, known as a “toepopper”, designed to blow a foot off. FFE is the acronym for ‘free from explosive’

In Zimbabwe’s sparsely populated north-eastern district of Mukumbura in Mashonaland Central province, cattle are trained to move in single file in search of water and pastures, a measure to protect them from anti-personnel landmines. Villagers rarely venture far, and if they do, it is along well-worn foot paths.

But flooding, a frequent occurrence, can dislodge the mines and bring them to the surface, where curious children treat them as toys, and are killed or maimed.

The landmines prevent villagers from hunting or gathering wild fruits and restrict land usage for domestic animals.
The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, an initiative that reports on implementation of and compliance with the 1999 Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), using data from the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre (ZIMAC), says 1 585 people were maimed or killed by mines between 1980 and 2012.

In 2012, 12 deaths and 11 injuries were reported across Zimbabwe, an increase from one death and two injuries from the previous year, but the monitor said the increase may be the result of improved reporting.

“ZIMAC has stated for many years that incidents in remote areas are under-reported,” the monitor pointed out.
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), which in 2012 began a de-mining programme in Manicaland, along the Mozambique border, said that since 1980, anti-personnel mines have killed more than 120 000 cattle in Zimbabwe.

Lingering for decades
Mukumbura is just one of many areas affected by anti-personnel mines that were laid along the borders of Mozambique and Zambia more than three decades ago, when Zimbabwe – then known as Rhodesia – fought for independence from Britain.

The minefields were laid by Rhodesian security forces as a barrier against the infiltration of liberation fighters from neighbouring states.
The minefields were mapped, but some records were lost during the 1980 transition from colonial Rhodesia to independent Zimbabwe, a senior military intelligence officer, who declined to be named, said.

This has caused many problems in trying to deal with the landmine problem, he said.
“The younger generations in Mukumbura area are victims of a war that ended years before they were born.
“They are captives in their own land, but seem to have accepted that their own children and future generations will still live next door to the mines.

“It is taking too long to clear the mines and it appears this shall persist for some time to come,” a police detective from the area said.
A 2012 ZIMAC report noted: “These mined areas have had a severe socio-economic impact on Zimbabwean rural communities.”
The mines have prevented the safe movement of communities, inhibited access to water sources, curtailed the expansion of tea and timber plantations, and hampered tourism, the report stated.

In fact landmines have caused untold suffering and great lack of development in these areas.
Landmine-clearing operations began in 1982, but progress has been slow, a fact blamed on inadequate funding and a lack of political will.
The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor in 2012 estimated about 1,17 million mines remain in the country.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services member Clifford Sibanda, said: “Zimbabwe is lagging way behind in clearing the mines as current generations are severely affected by their presence.

“Right from the start, there was a need to come up with a solid policy that would specify the amount of land to be freed of the landmines per year and sufficient funds allocated for that.”

Poor funding, equipment
The economy has suffered a series of blows since 2000, when the Government embarked on the land redistribution exercise that was met with resistance especially by European countries that went on to impose an embargo on Zimbabwe.

The action by some western countries ushered in a decade of economic depression and hyperinflation which reached its peak in 2008.
As a result of the poor economic performance there was limited funding to numerous projects.

A recent Parliamentary report said de-mining operations by the military would be constrained by poor funding after the finance ministry revealed its 2014 national budget.

The budget allocated $500 000 instead of the $2 million requested for de-mining this year.
In July 2012, while signing a memorandum of understanding with NPA for mine clearance operations, the Ministry of Defence Secretary, Martin Rushwaya, said: “Our Zimbabwean corps of engineers is facing a number of challenges, particularly with regard to the use of old and antiquated equipment, which has proved difficult to use. This means that the engineers need a lot of support as they cannot complete the de-mining job on their own.”

Zimbabwe is a signatory to the MBT, which stipulates that each member state must “undertake to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control as soon as possible.”

Zimbabwe missed its 2009 mine clearance deadline and was granted a 22-month extension, which it also failed to meet.
The deadline has since been extended to January 2015, but Sibanda said “there is little hope the Government will be able to meet its obligations by then”.

Unreliable statistics
The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor says statistics on Zimbabwe’s de-mining progress are confusing.
“Although Zimbabwe has cleared or otherwise released several mined areas, the data it has provided on land release are extremely inconsistent.

“Statements at conferences, the deadline extension requests and annual transparency reports offer inconsistent data on the remaining problem, and annual results reported since 2000 do not add up to the cumulative results reported” the monitor said in its comments on the deadline extension request.

It notes some Government information suggests about 20 square kilometres of land remains contaminated, while other information shows 223 square kilometres.

While applying for the MBT extension in 2012, ZIMAC noted that about 205 square kilometres of contaminated land remained from the original 511 square kilometres identified in 1982.

According to Halo Trust, landmines can still be found on a combined borderline estimated at 335km, with the mines extending inland from the borders.

ZIMAC indicated that major minefield clearance started in 1998 with technical, training and financial support from the US, but was discontinued after 18 months.

This was replaced with European Union (EU) support between 1999 and 2000, but this also ended as donors withdrew their support.
The government is currently being assisted by HALO Trust, NPA and the International Committee of the Red Cross, with the training of army engineers and the formulation of de-mining policies.

According to HALO, which received $864 000 from Japan for de-mining in Mukumbura, there are mines in immediate proximity of houses, school and clinics”. – IRIN/ In-Depth Reporter.

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