Citizens of Mozambique barely had a chance to catch their breath following the country’s decade-long battle for independence from Portugal in 1975, before they were thrown into 15 years of civil war. Peace was formally declared in 1992, but not before an estimated one million people had lost their lives in the fighting, and a further five million had been displaced.
As Mozambicans battled subsequent crises, such as flood and famine, they also had to face the deadly legacy of the civil war in the form of landmines, laid by all sides to defend strategic towns, as well as key power and transport sites. Nearly 30 years of conflict had turned Mozambique into one of the most mined countries in the world, leading to a large-scale mine clearance effort being launched by the United Nations Operations in Mozambique (UNMOZ) in 1993. Nevertheless, hundreds of people continued to be killed and injured over the following decade.
Against all odds – including predictions that it would take up to a century to reach this milestone – the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Oldemiro Júlio Marques Baloi, has today officially declared the country to be ‘free of all known landmines’.
‘This is a proud day for Mozambique,’ says Alberto Augusto, Director of the National Institute of Demining (IND). ‘Ridding our country of landmines was tremendously difficult, but the bravery and determination of our demining teams proves to the world that it is possible for countries to become mine free. We are truly grateful to those who risked their lives in order to protect those of our children and future Mozambicans.’
Working alongside the IND and UNMOZ over the years have been a number of NGOs, including the HALO Trust, based out of Scotland, plus Belgian-based APOPO. The HALO Trust has worked in Mozambique for 22 years, clearing over 171,000 landmines. ‘Mozambique is a compelling example of how dealing with the deadly debris of war systematically and in partnership with government, local people and donors can bring stability, recovery and growth to countries ravaged by war,’ says James Cowan, CEO of the HALO Trust.
APOPO started working in the country in 2007, using specially-trained giant pouched rats to smell out TNT and quickly locate the last remaining explosives. ‘APOPO is extremely proud to have played a part in this historical achievement that now allows the people of Mozambique to finally live without the fear of landmines and explosive remnants of war,’ adds Tess Tewelde, APOPO’s Head of Mine Action Africa.
Much of the clearer land can now be safely returned to farmers for agricultural purposes, while others, such as the former ammunition store now known as the Malhazine Ecological Park, is being transformed by the Ministry of Environment into a nature reserve, educational and tourism centre.