LONDON – Britain’s Prince Harry on Monday threw his weight behind mine clearance efforts in Angola, a cause championed by his mother more than two decades ago when she made global headlines by walking through a minefield in the country.
The prince welcomed an announcement that Angola will invest $60 million (47 million pounds) in clearing mines in the southeast of the country under a major conservation initiative in one of the world’s largest wildernesses.
“Let’s not forget, land mines are a humanitarian issue and not a political one,” the Duke of Sussex told a seminar on demining Angola at London’s Chatham House think tank.
He said it was “pretty shocking” that funding for demining in Angola had fallen by 90% over the last decade and urged the world not to “leave a job half done.”
Angola’s environment minister, Paula Coelho, told the event the $60 million would be used to clear 153 minefields inside the Mavinga and Luengue-Luiana National Parks in Cuando Cubango province, which Prince Harry visited in 2013.
The money will be channeled through the American-British demining charity HALO Trust, which promised that half the 800 new deminers would be women.
Speakers at the event said mine clearance would help ecotourism and agriculture to flourish and put Angola back on the map as a travel destination, benefiting local communities.
“Angola has some of the world’s most important remaining wilderness that is critical to biodiversity and an asset that should be protected, celebrated and benefited by its people,” Prince Harry said.
“In Cuando Cubango, in the far southeast of what is a vast, beautiful country, I saw a struggling community in a deserted landscape, unable to make use of the land, yet the potential to turn this land into a sustainable source for its people.”
More than one million landmines were planted during Angola’s 27-year civil war, which ended in 2002. Many people remain displaced and 88,000 have been left with disabilities from landmines which continue to maim and kill.
Angola has committed to clearing all landmines by 2025, but HALO said an estimated 1,155 minefields remained, covering an area equivalent to 121 square kilometers (47 square miles). The initiative will focus on the Angolan Okavango watershed, part of a massive conservation area boasting Africa’s largest elephant population as well as lions, cheetahs, buffalo and numerous bird species.
Prince Harry said the long journey to a mine-free country was “full of heartache and frustration”, but he believed Angola would become a “shining example to the rest of the continent.”
Princess Diana was criticized by some for crossing into the realm of politics when she walked through a minefield cleared by HALO in 1997 to highlight the harm caused by the weapons. She died in a car crash shortly before the signing of the 1997 international treaty to ban mines.
Landmines affect a third of the world’s countries but only 0.2% of overseas aid is spent on clearing them, according to Landmine Free 2025, an initiative to reenergise support to landmine clearance.
Source: Voice of America