APOPO in Angola
From 2012 to 2018, APOPO worked under the umbrella of partner Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), one of the leading humanitarian mine clearance operators in Angola and around the world. NPA has been surveying and clearing minefields in Angola since 1995 and has a comprehensive mine action capacity within which APOPO's mine detection rats (MDR) are a highly effective component as a fast and low-cost response. Notably, APOPO completed a minefield in Malele, Zaire province one year in advance due to the highly effective speed of the MDR.
In September 2018, APOPO received its registration from Angola’s Ministry of Justice which permits APOPO to conduct its humanitarian demining activities independently in Angola, followed by independent registration and licensing in April 2019 which will make way for APOPO’s access to new funding streams and a range of potential partnerships. In January 2019 APOPO Angola welcomed a new Program Manager - Manuel João Agostinho who is charged with leading the team and the transition to independent operations and a sustained program going forward until Angola is free of landmines by the APMBC deadline of 2025.
The landmine problem in Angola is a legacy of decades of fighting during the war of independence against its former colonial ruler Portugal and the ensuing civil war. In 2002 Angola entered a new era of peace and reconciliation unprecedented in its history.
Despite substantial development in its capital Luanda, rural Angola still has vast areas that remain heavily contaminated with landmines, undeveloped, and among the poorest in the world. It is estimated that one fifth of Angola’s population is affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Landmines not only kill and maim innocent people, but also isolate communities from basic needs such as water sources and travel routes, and productive land crucial for growing crops and grazing livestock.
To date APOPO’s operations were focused in the northwestern provinces of Malanje, Zaire and Uíge, all of which border the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since October 2020 this now also includes the western province of Cuanza Sul. Despite APOPO’s commitment to Angola to help in meeting its objective of becoming mine-free by 2025 in accordance with Article 5 of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC), the current mine clearance capacity country-wide is considerably less than it was just a few years ago. To this end, support and capacity for humanitarian demining in Angola must be ramped-up if Angola is to meet its 2025 deadline.
APOPO and NPA cleared three minefields in Malanje province, in order to allow villages, schools and businesses to expand. These are typical Angolan rural townships that have been boxed in by dangerous minefields, leaving them unable to expand and develop. Likewise, the Malele minefield along the Congo border had been a no-go area for many years but is now a vibrant trading post.
In 2017 APOPO began working in Uíge province, where it has to date cleared four minefields. The cleared areas in Uíge will allow villages to expand in terms of new housing and agricultural areas as well as make way for the construction of a new municipal hospital which will serve the entire municipality of 32,764 people or 6,553 families.
In recent years, APOPO carried-out an important study to assess the impact of the mine detection rats (MDR) when used alongside conventional mine action approaches to the detection and disposal of explosive materials on land suspected as hazardous. This study looked at records of site clearance that used both traditional mine action methods as well as the MDR. This exercise was repeated in other countries with and without the MDR to establish a more complete set of data for the study.
In June 2016, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) published a report on this study that praised the capabilities of APOPO’s MDR and clearly highlights their advantage over conventional methods in certain operational settings. Read the full report.
In September 2020, APOPO completed a group of eight tasks actually comprising one big minefield near a residential area in the village of Quitexe about 39 kilometers south of the city of Uíge, in the northwestern province. APOPO worked in Uíge from March 2017 to September 2020. APOPO’s work in Angola has impacted tens of thousands of lives and allowed hundreds of people to return home and farm their land safely. Development and expansion of villages can now begin because communities feel safe and confident to plan homes, hospitals, schools, small businesses, and infrastructure.
Following the completion of Uíge municipality, APOPO quickly moved onto the next National Mine Action Authority in Angola CNIDAH-assigned task in the western Cuanza Sul province. It is the third most landmine contaminated province in Angola and, due to the integrated economic activities, it is one of the main strategic provinces for the economic growth of Angola. The provincial government authorities welcomed APOPO and provide the necessary institutional support for our establishment and for a good start of operations. This task will aim to clear 2 million m2 directly benefit over 12,000 people from the local community providing safe access to vital farmland and bringing back transport routes and trade for the community. Finally, APOPO plans to help keep people safe by teaching mine risk education—preventing devastating accidents until we can remove all the landmines and explosives for good.
We hope to complete this new task by end of 2021. The Angola program is considering further integration of APOPO’s Technical Survey dogs in 2021 to help meet Angola’s mine-free deadline of 2025.