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Zimbabwe still landmine infested 33 years after conflict
April 15, 2013
one of the most mine-impacted countries in the world in terms of
area affected and density of mines. By this measure, it compares
to countries in immediate post-conflict transition periods, according
to a representative of Britain’s HALO Trust, an organization
dedicated to removing of the debris of war, such as mines. HALO
Trust participated in a discussion on landmines Tuesday, April 2,
as part of the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Food for Thought public
has one of the densest minefields in the world, with about 5,500
landmines per kilometer. The proximity of the people to the minefields
shows that it is inevitable that there will be a trickle of accidents
due to the need to grow crops and herd cattle,” said Tom Dibb,
a representative from the HALO Trust. Landmines claimed the lives
of over 20 people in Zimbabwe throughout 2012, said Dibb, who managed
mine clearance programmes in Chechnya and Afghanistan in addition
to work in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. Despite clearance conducted
by the military demining squadron, Zimbabwe still has more than
200 square kilometers of ground assessed to be impacted by landmines.
According to HALO Trust, during the Liberation War of the 1970s,
Rhodesian forces laid an extensive series of minefields along the
borders between Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and Zambia and Mozambique
in an attempt to prevent liberation movements from moving in and
out of the country for training and supplies. These belts of landmines
are located on Zimbabwe’s northeast border with Mozambique
and extend 335km from Musengezi to Rwenya and traverse major border
towns including Mukumbura and Nyamapanda.
a signatory of the Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use of
stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel mines. By
January 2015, the country must produce a detailed plan of how it
will achieve its Convention commitments.
Dibb said efforts
to demine the country’s border are supported by HALO Trust
and the Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA). The western border in the Victoria
Falls region was successfully demined by the Zimbabwe National Army.
Dibb co-presented the discussion session with two University
of Zimbabwe researchers, Trust Masiya (Institute of Mining Research)
and Professor Charles Nhachi (College of Health Sciences). The academics
shared information about how mercury is used in gold mining and
the dangers of mercury in general, as part of a public awareness
program for International Mine Action Day (April 4) facilitated
by Jean Phillipson of the U.S. Embassy.
topics are tied together by a common misconception that landmines
contain valuable “red mercury,” resulting in people
tampering with the explosive devices. Dibb and his co-presenters,
researchers from the University of Zimbabwe including the chair
of the Clinical and Pharmacology and Toxicology of Health Sciences,
demystified the popular belief that there is mercury in landmines,
stating that there is no mercury of any sort in landmines.
Early this year,
five people were killed in the high-density suburb of Chitungwiza
(30 kilometers south of Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare) by
an explosion. Police confirmed that a landmine caused the blast
and they speculate it was in an attempt to extract this mythical
red mercury which is believed to fetch value elsewhere.
about the presence of valuable “red mercury” in landmines
has encouraged people to tamper with dangerous explosive ordnances.
While not present in landmines, mercury, if not used correctly,
can be harmful to people and has environmental impacts.
“Exposure to mercury could cause adverse health effects,”
said Professor Nhachi. “It is toxic to plants and the soil
as well. When it is in its organic form, it easily penetrates membranes
in the body.” He said that renal lesions are one of the symptoms
of exposure to mercury, which injures the urinary system and can
lead to death in the most extreme cases.
Small-scale miners continue to use mercury (not the mythical red
mercury) to extract gold, a situation Masiya described as unfortunate
given the health and environmental consequences that come with improper
use. There are more than 400,000 people involved in artisanal small
scale mining countrywide.
scale miners use mercury because they believe it is the most effective
way to mine gold. It is cheap and readily available; it costs about
$150-$200 per kilogram; and there are no permits for purchasing
the product,” Masiya said. He said most small scale miners
use their bare hands to separate mercury from the gold and when
smelting gold over an open fire, resulting in them inhaling the
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