/** headlines: 125.0 **/
** Topic: Mozambique:Legacy of Landmines **
** Written 9:52 AM Sep 23, 1996 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
Isabel Tembe, 40, a mother of five, has once again become a baby herself, having to crawl to find her way around. Tembe lost both her lower limbs in December 1994, two years afte the end of the war in Mozambique, when she stepped on a landmine in the district of Catembe, just across the bay from the capital, Maputo.
Tembe became a victim of one of the estimated two million landmines planted during the 10-year liberation war against the Portuguese, and subsequently after independence in 1975, in the armed conflict between the ruling Frelimo and the former Renamo rebels.
The fact that the war has ended does not spare the likes of Tembe from the painful experience of having to live with serious disabilities for the rest of their lives.
She came across what could have been the end of her life one morning, when she ventured into the Catembe savanna in search of firewood. 'I was not even aware of what had happened,' she says. 'Only when I regained consciousness did I realise that both my legs had been blown off and that I was bleeding heavily.'
Her daughter, who was slightly injured in the same incident, ran home to inform Tembe's husband, who took her to the central hospital in Maputo. 'They told me it had been caused by a landmine,' says Tembe, tears streaming down her face. She had never heard of landmines.
After undergoing surgery, Tembe was discharged and advised to return after a year to be fitted with artificial limbs. She is now at the hospital, undergoing physiotherapy, together with a dozen other victims of landmines.
Landmines have now become one of Mozambique's major problems as the country tries to recover from 16 years of a war that has claimed an estimated one million lives and brought the entire nation to its knees. Now that the guns have fallen silent, the silent killers, hidden under the soil, will be there to do the job.
Visibly shocked by the tragic event that has now crippled her for life, Tembe wishes she had died, 'because this is no life anymore'. And she adds: 'I have to learn how to live again, learn how to do everything I did in the past to maintain my children including tilling my land. And as you can see, that is not easy. I no longer do things the way I used to. For example, I can no longer fetch water for my family, I can no longer carry a bag of maize as I used to do. It is my husband and children who now have to do these things, and imagine what will become of me if for any reason I cease to get this support from them; would it not have been better if I had just died?'
Tembe was lucky to have survived. Many die in isolated areas, where medical assistance is non-existent.
According to the director of Mozambique's National Mine Clearance Commission (CND), Os"rio Severiano, at least 40 people are killed by landmines in Mozambique every month. Severiano concedes that the number of victims could be much higher, considering that the data collection system set up to monitor cases of landmine explosions has not been expanded to include all parts of the country.
Highlighting the magnitude of the scourge caused by landmines in Mozambique, is the paediatric section of the Maputo Central Hospital. Doctors say the problem assumes a more serious dimension considering that most of the landmine victims are children and young people who will remain disabled for the rest of their lives.
Landmines are so threatening to the lives of children that the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has committed US$360,000 for mine clearance operations in 1996.
'It is imperative that landmines are cleared from Mozambican soil,' says UNICEF representative Boudewin Mohr. UNICEF has also financed a training programme for 60 mine clearance personnel being undertaken by the British company, the Halo Trust.
'A child who loses a limb becomes a burden to society,' Mohr says.
Another group of 600 mine clearance personnel has recently concluded a training programme funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and will soon be deployed throughout the country, mainly in the most affected provinces of Gaza, Inhambane and Maputo.
In order to alert the rural population on the presence of, and the dangers caused by, landmines, and thereby minimise the number of victims, Radio Mozambique, the official broadcasting corporation, has also embarked on an awareness campaign, calling on people to be suspicious of any strange objects. 'It could be a landmine,' says an advertisement broadcast 10 times a day in the various Mozambican national languages and in Portuguese, the country's official language.
In the programmes, Radio Mozambique emphasises that there is nothing better than being suspicious of any object that may seem to be buried under the soil. 'Immediately alert the authorities, because it could kill you,' says the advertisement.
The programme has proved to be useful, says Severiano, whose department has helped fund the programme, which is also sponsored by Handicap International, a non-governmental organisation engaged in a worldwide campaign against landmines. 'We have received calls from people informing us of the presence of strange objects. In most cases, the objects turned out to be landmines,' he says.
The magnitude of the landmines problem in Mozambique is such that in 1994, 100,000 Mozambicans signed a petition calling for a total ban on anti-personnel landmines. While attending the United Nations 50th anniversary celebrations in October 1995 in New York, President Joaquim Chissano said he was prepared to head an international campaign against the production of landmines, and there are indications that Mozambique may soon accede to the 1980 United Nations Conventional Weapons Convention, which restricts the indiscriminate use of landmines.
There is more reason for Mozambique to lead this campaign. With an estimated two million landmines scattered throughout the country, the cost to the Mozambican economy, apart from the human lives lost and other civilians maimed, includes the value of agricultural production lost. Clearing all landmines would cost Mozambique between US$600 million and US$2 billion.
The problem of landmines in Mozambique is further compounded by the fact that most of the minefields have not been marked, making the clearance operations more complicated.
Since its creation in 1994, the CND has supervised the removal of 21,610 landmines and other unexploded ordnance, which represent only 0.5% of the total number of landmines estimated to be in the country.
About 10 years will be required to remove all the landmines, and the CND estimates that at the current rate of casualties, over 5,000 people will be killed or maimed by landmine explosions within the same period. And these are conservative estimates, as most incidents occurring in the most remote parts of the country go unreported.
While landmines are cheap to produce, their removal can be a nightmare. Laying a landmine can take up to five minutes, but removing it requires at least one hour and very skilled personnel.
It is this menace against humanity and the staggering costs of landmine clearance operations that have led progressive forces to call for a total ban on the production of landmines. 'There is no point in removing landmines when for every landmine removed, 20 others are laid,' says Os"rio Severiano. 'It has to be a complete ban.'
The United Nations department of humanitarian affairs estimates that in Southern Africa, where five wars of liberation and three civil conflicts have been fought, at least 250,000 have been killed by landmine explosions over the past 30 years. In Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe there are at least 62 types of landmines acquired from 17 countries.
'A ban on stocks and anti-personnel mines is essential for the long-term development of our country,' says Severiano. But unless the producing countries heed this call and take the necessary measures to halt production, more Tembes will continue to be killed or maimed by landmines.
- Third World Network Features
About the writer: Gustavo Mavie contributed this article to SAPEM (South African Political & Economic Monthly) (February 1996), from which it is reproduced.
When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency involved in the article, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.
Published by Third World Network 228, Macalister Road, 10400
Tel: (+604)2293511,2293612 & 2293713; Fax: (+604)2298106.