Removing land mines protects people, restores habitat

U.S. government-supported mine-removal efforts, such as in Zimbabwe, protect people, spur economic development and boost wildlife conservation. (Courtesy of The HALO Trust)

Zimbabwe’s liberation war ended in 1979, but for cattle herder Elvis Chauke, the danger remains. Chauke grazes animals near a minefield along Zimbabwe’s southeastern border. He’s lost livestock and fears for his children’s safety.

U.S.-supported mine-removal operations in areas near Zimbabwe’s Chilotlela village allow Chauke to breathe easier.

“Although they have been educated to stay out of the minefield, and we have not had a human accident in years, with children you never know,” Chauke says in the 22nd To Walk the Earth in Safety report, issued April 4 by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

“It is a huge relief knowing some of the threat posed by mines near Chilotlela has already been alleviated,” he adds.

Working with international partners, the U.S. government’s Conventional Weapons Destruction Program clears land mines and other explosive remnants of war around the world. U.S. funding also helps to secure or destroy excess or improperly secured small arms and light weapons that could fall into the hands of criminals and terrorists.

Removing explosive remnants of war protects people and clears the way for economic development and environmental recovery after conflict, according to U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Jessica Lewis.

“After deadly landmines are removed and booby-traps and improvised explosive devices are cleared, wheat fields are now ready for harvesting,” Lewis says in the report’s introduction. “Children can run to school on a path, families can return to their partially destroyed homes, and elephants are able to migrate through grasslands.”

Person on knees, placing stick in soil (Courtesy of The HALO Trust)
A person removes land mines in Angola, where U.S.-supported mine-removal efforts protect growing population centers and wildlife habitat. (Courtesy of The HALO Trust)

Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $4.6 billion to safely clear land mines and explosive remnants of war in more than 120 countries.

From October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022, the period covered in the report, the United States invested more than $376 million in conventional weapons destruction efforts in more than 65 countries and areas around the world. These efforts resulted in accomplishments, including the destruction of:

  • 37,564 land mines and 9,099 improvised explosive devices or components.
  • 200,112 explosive remnants of war.
  • 14,165 excess small arms and light weapons, and 3,938 metric tons of unserviceable ammunition.

U.S.-funded conventional weapons destruction efforts also led to the safe return of more than 243 million square meters of land to communities.

The United States also trained mine removal teams in Ukraine, where Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion may have contaminated an estimated 174,000 square kilometers with land mines and explosives, according to Ukraine government estimates. The hazards threaten to injure or kill civilians, halt or delay the delivery of medical care and other humanitarian and emergency assistance, prevent displaced people from returning home, and impede reconstruction. Land mines and other explosive remnants of war also can continue to harm people, their livelihoods and livestock, and wildlife decades after a conflict ends.

In southern Zimbabwe, where Chauke herds livestock, land mines threaten wildlife and stall tourism and economic development. The Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, which connects Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park to South Africa’s world-famous Kruger National Park, is littered with land mines and explosives that threaten migrating elephants, wildebeests and other animals.

The United States provided $3.25 million to clear land mines and destroy weapons in Zimbabwe from late 2021 to late 2022, and nearly $29 million for explosives and weapons destruction in Zimbabwe since 1998.

In Angola, where 40 years of conflict ended in 2002, U.S.-funded mine-clearing efforts from late 2021 to late 2022 returned more than 2 million square meters of land to local communities. Since late 1994, the United States has provided more than $158.5 million for conventional weapons destruction in Angola, releasing more than 469 million square meters of land for productive use.

Explosives removal efforts in Angola focus on areas of significant population growth and support environmental conservation in the Okavango River Basin, which is a source of water for many people in Angola and Botswana, and a home to great biodiversity in both countries.

“U.S. investments in Angola’s conventional weapons destruction effort not only save lives & expand security — they also support the development of new economic opportunities in Angola, such as ecotourism in the Okavango Delta region,” the U.S. State Department has said.