Just like his mother did before him, Prince Harry is taking up the fight against landmines, calling it a humanitarian issue.
At the height of Princess Diana‘s campaign on the issue just before she died in 1997, she found herself in the firing line from some politicians who were angry at what they interpreted as her meddling in international political affairs.
But Harry, speaking at a major meeting on landmines in London on Monday, said that his experience has “showed me the importance of landmine clearance within a humanitarian emergency because, let’s not forget, land mines are a humanitarian issue — not a political one.”
Six years ago, the prince visited Angola with the mine-clearing charity, The Halo Trust, which just announced a $60 million project with the Angolan government to continue their work against landmines in the area.
“In Cuando Cubango, in the far southeast of what is a vast, beautiful country, I saw a struggling community in a deserted landscape unable to make use of the land, yet the potential to turn this land into a sustainable source for its people,” he said. “In fact I was told just the other day of the positive transformation in Huambo since my mother walked that minefield all those years ago.”
He listened as Dr. Jane Cocking, CEO of Mine’s Advisory Group — which Harry has supported — praised Diana for her groundbreaking campaigning just before she died. “Let’s continue to break those rules,” she added.
But there is much to be done. During the meeting on “Mine Clearance, Conservation and Economic Development in Angola” at Chatham House, London, need for a new initiative was discussed to clear landmines surrounding the Angolan Okavango area, which is rich in wildlife and natural resources.
Delegates heard that Angola’s Okavango Delta area is some of the world’s most important remaining wilderness, and the country has the potential to host one of the most diverse mammal populations on the continent.
Harry added, “My hope is that through this collaboration, minefields can be cleared, land can be protected, wildlife can be free to return to where they once roamed, and Angolans can reap the rewards by coexisting with the one constant that will draw people in from all over the world – the extraordinary setting that they call home.”
The meeting could be seen as partly a fact-finding mission ahead of Harry’s planned tour to Africa alongside Meghan Markle later this year. Harry, 34, who celebrated his first Father’s Day on Sunday by releasing a new image of son Archie, is set to visit Angola as part of his upcoming tour of a few African countries later in the year.
The presence of landmines and remnants of the civil war have left large areas of the country unsafe for both animals, and this holds back the chances to create sustainable growth in livelihoods from that natural environment. much of the land has been lost to “a legacy of war,” Dr. Cocking said. “It’s left communities unable to use the wonderful natural gifts.”
The conference heard how teams from the Mines Advisory Group are still clearing areas that are just yards from where “children are playing and young people gossiping,” she added.
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During Monday’s event, Harry heard that 60% of African farmers are women — and how important they have also become to mine clearing.
Kai Collins, director of Okavango Wilderness Project, told the gathering that “women represent the heart of these communities. A lot of men were lost in the war and currently the men are going out hunting for bushmeat as one of the only sources of income.”
The Halo Trust, which has been working in Angola since 1994, during which time it has destroyed more than 95,000 landmines and cleared 840 minefields, estimates that there is still more than one thousand minefields to be cleared.