MALANGE, Angola – Ten years after the end of the civil war in Angola, the country still remains, despite its best efforts, one of the most unexploded mine-affected countries in the world. The African nation was due to finish the demining by 2013, but the Angolan government is requesting a five-year extension to complete the task.
According to the United Nations Development Program, more than 80,000 people in Angola have been maimed by landmines since war broke out in 1975, and thousands more were killed. One out of eight Angolans lives in a landmine-affected community, and the 30 years of war have riddled all provinces with mines.
One of the NGO's working to de-mine the affected areas is the Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) which has 132 local employees and 2 international staff. Beyond the modern equipment and technology that Norwegian People's Aid's team uses rats in their demining efforts. Rats have an exceptional sense of smell and can be trained to detect explosives. Unlike metal detectors, they can detect both metal and plastic-cased landmines and can release up to 400 square meters of land per day.
NPA also relies on villagers to tell them where the mines and other explosive devices are located. The agency has teams to sensitize the people on the risks and on the danger of mines and other unexploded devices. They have observed that the villagers are very conscious of the dangers and when they find a suspected mine, they work with NPA to remove it.
The Norwegian NGO works with the national demining commission, CNIDAH, which coordinates the efforts of both NGOs and local demining teams. The commission monitors the operations all across the country.
CNIDAH's departmental head of operations, Brigadier Roque de Oliveira, says the government has put a great deal of effort into demining, because it is deemed crucial for the development of the country.
"For Angola to grow and develop, especially in agriculture, we need to demine. For Angola to build houses and schools that were destroyed during the war, we need to demine. And we need to demine railroads to improve development as well."
Besides agriculture, the country and the region also have the potential for tourism. Just a few kilometers away from the landmines are the third biggest waterfalls in Africa. Ten years ago, few people would venture here. Today, it has become a popular place for locals and expatriates to visit.
The Angolan government has recently asked for a five-year extension to finish demining, arguing that only 40 percent of the job has been completed in the past decade. (Voice of America)