Fourteen years after the end of Mozambique's civil war, landmines still threaten the lives of 500 000 rural people, denying them access to farms, trade routes and water supplies. (Mozambique)
Because no accurate maps were left by the rebels and government troops who laid the mines during 16 years of conflict, huge tracts of land are out of productive use because people fear danger underfoot.
"The identification of minefields is very difficult. There is absolutely no information about the distribution and location, so it is a process of continuous discovery," said Luftus Kabir, chief technical officer of the National Demining Institute (NDI).
"Cyclone-induced floods in 2000 worsened the situation in the central and southern provinces ... and swept away site markings on identified minefields. The heavy rains also unearthed more mines and moved them around. As a result, areas that had been declared mine-free cannot be said to be the same until another impact survey is done," he said.
The mines are still killing indiscriminately. Last year 23 people died and 34 were injured in landmine explosions - a sharp rise from 2004 when three people were killed. "The mine threat has been considerably reduced in the north, but the rest of the country remains under siege," said Kabir.
Halo Trust, a British NGO working in the four northern provinces of Zambezia, Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa, has removed over 100,000 mines and unexploded ordnance, and believes the region is now generally mine-free.
"There is very little left to do. I am sure we will be pulling out by early 2007. When we are through, we will conduct another mine-impact survey, consulting the communities to find out if they still have problems," said Christian Richmond, a desk officer with Halo Trust in London.
Landmines killed over 800 people between 1997 and 2000. The government has set 2009 as the deadline for the clearance of all known minefields, with a total of 506 suspected hazardous areas yet to be swept.
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