Zimbabwe's Demining Neglected

Harare — In Zimbabwe's sparsely populated northeastern district of Mukumbura, the 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 underreported," the monitor pointed out.

Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), which in 2012 began a demining 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 mines fields 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, told IRIN.

"The younger generations in that area [Mukumbura] 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," a police detective from the area told IRIN.

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.

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.

Clifford Sibanda, a parliamentarian from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and chair of a committee with oversight of the defence ministry, said demining was not a priority issue for President Robert Mugabe's government.

"Zimbabwe is lagging way behind in clearing the mines as current generations are severely affected by their presence. It is clear that the government has had its priorities misplaced. Granted, the economy is currently performing poorly, but even when the situation was better, not much progress was recorded," he told IRIN.

"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," he said.

Poor funding, equipment

The economy has suffered a series of blows since 1997, when Mugabe's government paid compensation to war veterans - which immediately saw the currency devalued - followed by the costs of the army's involvement in a war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the fast-track land reform programme, which ushered in a decade of economic malaise and hyperinflation.

A recent parliamentary report said demining operations by the military would be constrained by poor funding after the finance ministry revealed its 2014 national budget. The budget allocated US$500,000 instead of the $2 million requested for demining this year.

In July 2012, while signing a memorandum of understanding with NPA for mine clearance operations, the 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 [demining] 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 demining 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, three... 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" in its comments on the deadline extension request.

It notes some government information suggest about 20sqkm of land remains contaminated, while other information shows 223sqkm remain to be cleared.

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

According to Halo Trust, a UK-based demining organization, 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 (ICRC), which are helping with the training of army engineers and the formulation of demining policies.

According to HALO, which received $864,000 from Japan for demining in Mukumbura, the "humanitarian situation is still very much that of a country in the immediate post-conflict phase. There are mines in immediate proximity of houses, school and clinics".

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

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