Luanda — SOUTHEASTERN Angola boasts some of the world's most iconic ecological and tourism sites but is also among the most inaccessible regions because of landmines, which are a legacy of a civil war that ended in 2002.
Among the areas worst affected by the explosives planted during the 27-year conflict are the Cuando Cubango Province's Mavinga and Luengue-Luiana National Parks, which are important parts of the Kavango Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), the globe's largest conservation area.
Measuring about 520 000 km2 It spans Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Some 17 years after the end of the civil war, thanks to a multi-million-dollar landmine clearance exercise, locals need no longer risk life and limb, wildlife can be conserved and tourism and economic development set for a major boost.
The government of President João Lourenço is set to invest $60 million in the exercise jointly announced with The Halo Trust, the world's leading humanitarian mine clearance organisation.
Angola's investment over five years will fund clearance of 153 minefields.
The exercise honours Angola's commitment to the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty to clear all landmines on its territory before a 2025 deadline.
"Angola has committed to remove landmines from the parks so that wildlife can be conserved and that economic development can thrive using the best models of sustainable tourism," said Paula Coelho, Angola's Minister for the Environment.
She noted Cuando Cubango was one of the regions badly affected by the war between the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and rival National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
More than 500 000 people were killed whilst millions displaced.
Alex Vines, Director of The Chatham House Africa Programme, highlighted Angola had been at peace for 17 years.
"There is a unique opportunity to eradicate landmines completely by 2025 and unlock the country's unique wildlife potential," Vines said.
Research by Chatham House indicates clearing the landmines could help diversify Angola's oil-based economy, enhance conservation and create new jobs.
South-eastern Angola is rated one of the last wild places on the planet.
However, significant parts of the watershed feeding the Okavango system are unreachable because of landmines. Local development is severely impacted and communities live in fear of the deadly explosives.
The Okavango headwaters provide water to some 1 million people and supports the world's largest population of African elephants, significant populations of lions and cheetahs and numerous species of birds.
The Okavango Delta is a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
Halo Trust seeks partners to match the funding by the Angolan government.
The trust has been working in Angola since 1994, during which it has destroyed more than 95 000 landmines and cleared 840 minefields.
An estimated 1 155 minefields remain to be cleared.
"Our work in the coming years will make local people safe and is the necessary first step to allow Angola to develop the kind of conservation tourism that can protect wildlife while providing sustainable future development," said James Cowan, Chief Executive Officer of the Halo Trust.