Nearly 11,000 African elephants live and thrive in southeast Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park, justifying its name which translates to “Place of Elephants.” The park connects to South Africa’s world-famous Kruger National Park via the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor, a narrow strip in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe that allows for the free movement of elephants and other wildlife between the two parks. Tragically, for more than forty years, anti-personnel landmines in the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor have killed and maimed both people and wildlife, hindered conservation efforts, and slowed the development of Zimbabwe’s ecotourism industry.
During Zimbabwe’s Liberation War of the 1970s, the Rhodesian Army laid massive minefields to prevent guerrilla fighters from entering the country, including a 37 kilometer-long (22 mile) minefield in the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor. In addition to threatening people, the landmines prevent the safe migration of the large elephant herds between Gonarezhou and Kruger National Parks. The elephants’ inability to move freely between parks threatens the viability of the elephant population and can lead to conflict with local farmers when the elephants damage their crops or otherwise interfere with their daily activities.
The landmines also impede Zimbabwe’s efforts to diversify its economy through a vibrant ecotourism industry, since landmines make it difficult and dangerous for people to visit the park. This helps explain why, despite containing incredible biodiversity and stunning landscapes, Gonarezhou National Park receives only 8,000 visitors annually compared to the 1.8 million people that visit Kruger National Park. Increased revenue from ecotourism would significantly boost the local economy, provide additional resources to support conservation efforts, and help create more prosperous and stable partners for the American people.
Through the U.S. Department of State’s Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) program, the United States recently provided a $750,000 grant to APOPO, an NGO with long demining experience, to start clearing the minefield in the Sengwe Wildlife Corridor. This project will go a long way toward improving civilian safety, supporting Zimbabwe’s ecotourism goals, and enhancing conservation efforts to protect this ecologically vital region. APOPO will deploy four manual clearance teams with the objective of returning 214,200 square meters of land to safe and productive use. The U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Research and Development (HD R&D) Program is also supporting this project by providing mine detection equipment to clear an adjacent roadway, an important first step for demining teams to access the minefield safely.
APOPO is coordinating its operations with the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust (GCT) – a partnership between the Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Frankfurt Zoological Society – to ensure demining activities support both conservation and development plans. The project also complements USAID’s new community-based natural resources Resilience ANCHORS program that will improve environmental governance, work on integrated water management to increase agricultural production and provide potable water, and coordinate with the private sector to enhance conservation of natural resources around Gonarezhou National Park. Additionally, USAID’s activity will work closely with Resilience ANCHORS to provide climate-smart agricultural technologies to selected communities and to help communities sell their products for a fair market price to build community resilience for future shocks and stresses.
Since 1998, the United States has invested more than $23.9 million for humanitarian demining in Zimbabwe, releasing 8.1 square kilometers (2,004 acres) of previously contaminated land and destroying more than 38,000 landmines. The United States has also provided mine risk education to over 10,100 Zimbabweans living near minefields, helping them to stay safe from injury and death as they go about their daily lives.
The United States recently awarded $2,250,000 to The HALO Trust, another demining NGO with deep experience, to continue manual and mechanical demining operations in Mashonaland Central Province in northeast Zimbabwe. This project aims to return 1,186,000 square meters of contaminated land to productive use, destroying an estimated 7,800 landmines in the process. As with the APOPO project, DOD’s HD R&D Program is also playing a key role in Mashonaland, providing HALO with detectors, training aids, and specialized screening equipment to support clearance operations.
With U.S. funding, HALO has also developed “The Minefield” book to warn kids of the dangers that landmines pose and is working with local teachers to distribute 3,000 copies to vulnerable communities. HALO also will provide prosthetic limbs to survivors of landmine accidents, improving their quality of life.
U.S. assistance for humanitarian demining in Zimbabwe improves the safety and livelihoods of ordinary people that are still suffering from the deadly legacy of a war that ended more than forty years ago. In addition to saving human lives, the United States is proud to protect the diverse wildlife in Zimbabwe and help facilitate the growth of the local tourism industry.
Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $3.8 billion in CWD assistance to over 100 countries, including $500 million of assistance to 36 countries in Africa – making the United States the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction. For more information, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter .
About the Author: Michael Tirre serves as a Program Manager in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.