By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
01 April 2014
Landmines have killed and maimed hundreds of Zimbabweans as inadequate resources and a lack of political will continue to hamper demining efforts.
More than 1,500 people and 120,000 cattle have been killed since 1980, while more than 2,000 people have been maimed, humanitarian groups say.
In 2012 alone 12 people died while 11 were injured countrywide. However, the figures do not include unreported cases, according to the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre which coordinates demining activities in the country.
Planted by Rhodesian forces during the liberation struggle and targeted at guerillas, the victims are now ordinary villagers, particularly those living along the borders with Zambia and Mozambique.
The worst affected areas include Musengezi, Rwenya, Rushinga and Mukumbura, where routine chores are a risky business for villagers.
Humanitarian news agency IRIN reports that fetching water, gathering wild fruits, or herding cattle are not straightforward for those living in affected areas.
“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.”
Zimbabwe remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world – with at least 1.17 million mines still remaining. Due to the scale of the problem and slow pace of demining, several western-sponsored humanitarian groups are now assisting Zimbabwe to do the job.
These include the US-based HALO Trust, the Norwegian People’s Aid, and the International Crescent of the Red Cross, which are assisting with training or equipment used in demining activities or support for those maimed by the mines.
Last year Japan gave HALO $864,000 to clear mines in Mukumbura, an area the group described as resembling “a country in the immediate post-conflict phase,” with mines found close “to houses, school and clinics.”
The spokesman of the International Crescent of the Red Cross, Tendayi Sengwe, said the mines are a huge challenge for people living in these areas.
“For communities in these minefields, the explosive can be in the yard and adults have to constantly remind children to be careful.
“While the older generation may be aware of the threat, people born after the liberation war may not be, and this puts them at higher risk.”
Sengwe said huge demand for land as a result of population growth also means that people end up taking risks and venturing into minefields, in search of farmland or pastures.
“These communities are trapped and it’s critical that these landmines are removed so that people can live and move freely without the fear of being killed.”
He said the wealth of rural communities lies in their livestock and the constant loss of cattle through landmines also depletes the communities’ sources of livelihood.
“It is therefore important that everyone remains committed to supporting the efforts being put towards eradicating this problem,” Sengwe added.
The cash-strapped Zim government this year allocated just $500,000 towards demining activities, instead of the requested $2 million.
The country has missed three mine clearance deadlines set by the Mine Ban Treaty which requires signatories “to undertake to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in areas under its jurisdiction or control as soon as possible.”
The Zim government has in the past blamed the delay on old and antiquated equipment, and pleaded for help and support for its demining personnel.
A legislator who spoke to IRIN disagreed, and said this was a case of misplaced priorities. He said right from the start, the government should have devised a solid policy specifying the amount of land to be demined per year, and allocating sufficient funds towards this.