Landmine Clearance Hampered by Floods and War in the Region
28 April 2000
by Diana Mavunduse
This is a third in a four-part series on impact of floods in southern Africa
The recent floods that hit southern Africa did not only displace people, but also caused extensive
environmental damage including washing away both landmines and anti-personnel mines, reducing
much of the progress made in clearance on many fronts especially in Mozambique.
Mozambique, which had been recently lauded as "one of the fastest growing economies in Africa " and
was recovering from a two-decade civil war which finally ended in 1992, was steadily rebuilding
people's lives and communities were enjoying increasing production.
Since 1995 significant progress was being made in mine clearance as areas were marked, mapped,
cleared and by late 1998, the number of accidents was reduced from 40-a-week to only two, but much
of the critical work done has been undone by the floods which hit the southern and the central regions
of the country in February.
There are two types of mines, antipersonnel and antitank mines, the latter of is often loosely referred to
as landmines. Antipersonnel mines are hand laid on or under the ground. Some of these antipersonnel
mines laid in Mozambique and borderareas of Zimbabwe are made of plastic and float in water. While
an antitank mine is a device that is designed to detonate from more than 100 kgs of pressure.
Although Mozambique was relatively free of antipersonnel mines, the power of flood waters in the
country and some border areas of Zimbabwe, moved landmines, which are heavier and often planted
deeper, from areas that were demarcated and fenced off as planted with explosives, into areas which
were previously considered free and safe.
"Markings of mined areas have been swept away or destroyed. There is no certainty as to where the
mines are now," said Alberto Manhique, chairperson of the Mozambican Campaign Against
According to the Landmine Monitor Report 1999, most demining operators suggested that the number
of landmines and anti-personnel mines in Mozambique is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands.
However, "it is not the number oflandmines, but their impact that provides an indicator ofa country's
mine-affected status," said the report.
Minefields in Mozambique have been located in all provinces, but the most heavily mined regions are
found in the west of Manica province, in the center of the country in Zambezia and Tete provinces,
and along the border with Zimbabwe.
Since 1995, 7, 733km of roads and 1 ,829km under electricity transmission lines have been cleared of
mines in Mozambique and 56,176 anti-personnel mines have been located and destroyed.
Although it may not be immediately known how many landmines moved downstream, the greatest
danger to people will come as they return home and begin to rebuild their lives and communities.
"Local landmarks will have changed and already established minefields markings will have been
destroyed by the flooding," said Manhique.
lU anomer, salo rresloern JOaqulm LhlSSanO.
On 15 March, a four-month emergency mine. action programme was initiated in Mozambique,
supported by the National Demining Institute (IND) and the United Nations Development Programme
The main components of the programme include the identification of the most populated at-risk areas,
and the collection of data relating to the possible effects of the floods on landmine location and raising
awareness among the affected population.
Although southern Africa has played an important role in the global anti-landmine campaign, there are
still serious problems due to, renewed fighting in Angola, where the security situation has deteriorated,
and more landmines have been laid.
All southern African countries, except the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are signatories to
the global Mine Ban Treaty signed at Ottawa in 1997. The other countries have gone a step further,
ratifying the treaty while Angola, Botswana, Seychelles and Zambia are still to do so. Continued
fighting in Angola and the DRC poses a danger for renewed planting of the deadly explosives.