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Landmines in Mozambique: After the Floods
By Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch
Paper prepared for Conference on Mozambique After the Floods
Tuesday, 28 March 2000, Washington DC.
While the floods in Mozambique during the past month have undoubtedly reversed much of the progress made recently on many fronts in Mozambique, their impact on the country's well-established mine action programmes remains mostly unknown at this point. It is not yet possible to evaluate the impact of the floods that have devastated the southern and central region of the country, including the mine-affected provinces of Maputo, Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala and Manica. Most areas affected are still inundated by the floods with the possibility of more floods as river levels increase again. In the areas where the flood is receding, there is still little mobility with few villagers returning home. In addition to mines, many other life-threatening problems confront Mozambique as a result of the flooding including the threats of malaria and cholera.

Related Material
Landmine Monitor Report 1999
Toward a Mine-Free World

The main danger with respect to mines is however very clear: there is no certainty as to where the mines are now because landmines and buried explosives, shift like stones in rushing water, and tend to move downstream following gravity. Some of the antipersonnel mines used in Mozambique were made of plastic and float in water. According to Gerhard Zank, the Mozambique representative of the Halo Trust, a British demining agency: "In the past, mines have been washed downstream in heavy rains, but we never had flooding on this massive scale before. We just don't know what the effect will be."(1)

Markings of mined areas may have been swept away or destroyed. The rain and flooding may have exposed buried mines. Mines may have shifted in the floodwaters and end up in areas previously considered clear and safe. These mines will therefore present a more serious risk for deminers and civilians alike. Fear of mines has already delayed significantly the repair power lines taken out by the floods.

One of the most-publicized messages from Mozambique's leaders on the flooding is their appeal to citizens to be aware of the landmine danger. "They should alert the authorities so that that device is checked before they can continue with their work because it is true when there are floods in any country where there are mines, mines are moved around from one place to another," said Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano on 8 March.(2)

Chissano rightly identified Mozambique with the 87 other mine-affected countries of the world, all of which face common problems with uncleared mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) that shift from their original location through erosion, flooding, melting snow, shifting sand and other natural elements.

In central Vietnam, mines and UXO that were once 4-12 inches below the surface shifted during severe flooding in November-December 1999. The BLU 26/36 "bombies" and 40 mm grenades were most susceptible to shifting, as well as being responsible for a large number of casualties; this phenomenon is blamed for at least 3 deaths last November.(3)

In the Republic of Korea, Landmine Monitor reported on civilian casualties that mainly occur near the 155-mile Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and more recently due to flooding or landslides caused by heavy rains that wash landmines out of the DMZ minefields or storage sites and into areas frequented by civilians. In one incident in August 1998, it was reported that 200 M14 antipersonnel mines had been swept away by rains.(4) In April 1999, the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly said that only 59 of 321 landmines washed away by rainstorms in late 1998 had been recovered.(5)

While the flooding in Mozambique may have set-back mine action programs, some operators are very wary of making statements that could deter donors by giving painting a hopeless scenario that is worse that the anticipated effect of the flooding. When Tropical Storm Mitch hit Central America in late 1998, much media attention focused on a statement that 25,000 mines were adrift in Honduras and Nicaragua as a result of the storm. No one knew the exact number of mines adrift for certain; more important was the impact of the storm on existing mine action programs. In Mozambique, one operator's main concern is that areas that had been verified safe or that had been demined before the flooding cannot be deemed safe until they have been through a verification process again, especially those areas close to or downstream from known minefields.(6)

Most demining operators today suggest that the number of mines in Mozambique is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of landmines but it is not the number of landmines, but their impact that provides an indicator a country's mine-affected status. Few maps and records were kept of the mines laid during Mozambique's decades-long civil war, which ended in 1992. Mines were used by both Frelimo and Renamo for both around areas including military headquarters, towns and villages, sources of water and power, pylon lines and dams, as well as on roads, tracks and paths and alongside bridges and railway lines.(7) Many of mines in Mozambique were laid around bridges and culverts, to protect bridges from being attacked by people intent on blowing them up. Since the war, many of these, including the bridges on N1 the main road up the country, have simply been demarcated as mined areas, and/or cleared when the roads were repaired. On smaller upcountry grade roads, the culverts and bridges were similarly mined, even fewer of these have been cleared.

Minefields have been located in all provinces, but the most heavily mined regions are found along the border with Zimbabwe in the west of Manica province, in the center of the country in Zambezia and Tete provinces, and in the south in Maputo and Inhambane provinces. A major global initiative is currently underway to get better baseline data for mine action operations at the country level. Mozambique is one of a dozen mine-affected countries that have been identified for this level one survey but the survey in Mozambique seems to be unaffected by the flooding as it has only just started. Village level data collection began just recently in the northern, less-flood impacted province and it is unknown what impact, if any, the flooding will have on the survey when it moves to the central and southern regions in 5-6 months.

To date, no injuries directly related to landmines in the floods is known, yet it is still to early to rule out that such injuries might have occurred as people moved around. Indeed the greatest danger to populations by mines may come as the return home and begin to rebuild their lives and communities. Local landmarks will have changed and already established minefield marking will have been destroyed by the flooding. Minefield marking can include the including sticks, the red-and-white signposts and tape emblazoned with a skull and crossbones. In the areas affected by flooding, many of these markings have washed away. If mine action operators were not yet in the area prior to the flooding, locals might know to avoid an area suspected of mines or place a marker, such as a small pile of stones or sticks, to indicate a mined area and others would therefore steer clear of it. Now that small pile of stones of stocks may also have been washed away. Such markers may no longer be trusted.

On 15 March, a four-month emergency mine action programme was initiated supported by the National Institute for Mine Clearance (IND), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Accelerated Demining Program (ADP), Handicap International (HI), Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) and other mine action operators. Main components of the programme include: the identification of the most populated at-risk areas; the collection of data relating to the possible effects of the floods on landmine location; raising awareness among the affected population, including those in refugee camps and the establishment of teams to identify and destroy displaced landmines. The emergency mine risk education campaign in the areas where floods may have covered or disturbed confirmed or suspected minefields includes precautions to be taken when people return home. After people have returned and settled in, the intensive awareness campaign is expected to continue. This emergency programme is in addition to the continued and long-established mine action programmes, including demining and mine awareness.

In Mozambique, there are approximately nine to twelve thousand amputees but it is too difficult to trace how many of these people are amputees as a result of mine injuries. In 1995, Handicap International estimated that there were between fifty and sixty new mine victims each month. In 1998, a total of eighty-three new mine victims were reported over the entire year. Over the course of 1999, a dozen people were killed and 48 others injured by the explosives.(8) This is a dozen deaths too many but a dramatic indicator of the progress that has been made on all fronts to combat Mozambique's landmine problem. While no new mine victims have occurred due to mines that shifted in the floods, it is still possible that injuries will occur when the populations displaced by the floods returns home.

Unlike Korea and Vietnam, which have been reluctant to issue public warnings on the dangers of mines that have moved in flooding, Mozambique's leaders are on record urging their citizens to be aware of these dangers. Their statements are an important indicator of how far the country has advanced in acknowledging and dealing with its mine and UXO problem. This response cannot be fully understood without a final examination of the policy steps Mozambique has taken to totally eradicate this weapon.

In February 1997, during the International Campaign to Ban Landmine's Fourth International NGO Conference on Landmines, held in Maputo, Foreign Minister Leonardo Simão announced Mozambique's immediate ban on the use, production, import and export of antipersonnel mines. Simão cited the of the mobilization work undertaken by the non-governmental Mozambican Campaign Against Landmines (CMCM) as a key factor in the decision to renounce antipersonnel mines. The campaign collected and presented to President Chissano 100,000 signatures from citizens calling for a total ban on the weapon.

From this point on, Mozambique has played an important role in ensuring African support for the Ottawa Process and the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and On their Destruction (otherwise referred to as the Ottawa or Mine Ban Treaty).(9) Mozambique signed Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa, Canada in December 1997 and was thirty-third country to ratify. In May 1999, Mozambique was host to the First Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty - a significant event as it was the first diplomatic meeting of the treaty to be held in a mine-affected county as opposed to the diplomatic capitols of New York or Geneva.

Mozambique's response to the landmine crisis, both domestically and internationally, has not gone unnoticed by the donor community who generally view the country as a success story in terms of mine action. Unlike its heavily mine-affected neighbor Angola, Mozambique has not returned to war since the Peace Accords and there have been very few instances of new use of antipersonnel mines. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, between 1993 and the end of 1998, funding for mine action in Mozambique exceeded US$116 million with major donors including the United States, Norway, Canada, E.U., Germany, Denmark and France.

There are currently numerous donor appeals for assistance for Mozambique in the aftermath of the flooding, including calls for increased assistance for mine action. It is critical that mine action in Mozambique continues to be funded. While the floods have undoubtedly knocked back mine action efforts in Mozambique, the degree to which operations have been affected still remains mostly unknown. One lesson that can be drawn from the experience is that the progress that has been made by Mozambique over the course of the past decade in dealing with its mine problem will not be completely undone as a result of the flooding, it will hopefully only be delayed.

This conference paper is drawn from the Mozambique country report contained in:

International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 1999: Toward a Mine-Free World (New York: Human Rights Watch, April 1999, 1,100 pages). ISBN: 1-56432-231-9.

I also acknowledge the kind assistance of Handicap International, Norwegian People's Aid, Survey Action Center, ICBL Coordinator Liz Bernstein, Alex Vines of Human Rights Watch and Henry Thompson in preparation of this conference paper.

1 Dean E. Murphy, "Danger Lurks Below The Surface In Mozambique," Los Angeles Times, 3 March 2000, Pg. 12.

2 Alex Belinda, "MOZAMBIQUE-FLOODS-LANDMINES", Voice of America Transcript, 8 March 2000.

3 Brousseau and Hathaway, "Adrift in Central Vietnam"; LM Vietnam interviews with Mark Pirie (JMU-MAP Program Manager), Jan-Feb 2000; technical notes provided to Landmine Monitor Vietnam by Roger Hess, UXB International. From forthcoming ICBL, Landmine Monitor Report 2000, tbr September 2000.

4 Xinhua, "Over 10 tons of Ammunition Lost in Rains," 7 August 1998.

5 "Air Force removing thousands of landmines," Korea Herald, 2 April 1999.

6 Telephone interview with Christian Ruge, Policy Officer, Norwegian People's Aid, 23 March 2000.

7 Landmines produced in the following countries have been found in Mozambique: USSR, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Yugoslavia, China, Italy, Belgium, France, U.K., Portugal, U.S., South Africa, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Austria.

8 Greg Myre, Associated Press, "Floodwaters Uproot Land Mines From Mozambique's Civil War," Philadelphia Inquirer, 11 March 2000.

9 Forty-one African states have signed the Mine Ban Treaty, of which twenty-two have ratified to date. The seven African non-signatories are Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia. The Mine Ban Treaty global total is currently 137 signatories, of which 94 have ratified. Approximately fifty countries remain outside the treaty including the United States. Current U.S. policy is to join the Mine Ban Treaty in 2006 as long as alternatives to AP mines have been developed and fielded by this date.