When Britain’s Prince Harry retraces his mother’s footsteps Friday in the African nation of Angola, the Duke of Sussex won’t be walking through a minefield.
Homes, shops and a paved road have replaced the narrow dirt path Princess Diana once trod in Huambo. Gone are the skull and crossbones signs, the need to wear a flak jacket.
But 22 years after Diana’s visit boosted international funding to clear the soil – and 133 countries signed a treaty banning land mines – explosives keep hurting rural Angolans, who are still grappling with the aftermath of a bloody civil war that ended in 2002.
“There is still a huge amount to do,” Prince Harry told a London audience in June. “The fact that funding has been reduced by 90 percent over the last decade is pretty shocking.”
The United States was Angola’s leading backer as it strove to remove land mines planted during the 27-year conflict, funneling $129 million to the effort since 1993.
Over the years, however, funding has dried up as battles in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere have grabbed international attention.
Angola, which is entering its fourth year of recession, is struggling to finish the job. The government recently pledged $60 million toward the cleanup, but that’s not enough to reach its goal of demining the country by 2025.
“At the current rate of funding, Angola won’t be land-mine-free until 2046,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at Chatham House, a global think tank.
Safely removing land mines is expensive, he said. Specialists use metal detectors and drones that find irregularities in soil.
When Diana’s helicopter landed in Huambo in 1997, the United Nations estimated that millions of land mines were scattered throughout the country, which is the size of Texas and California combined.
Seven among 37 types of explosives identified in one report were manufactured in the United States. Other suppliers included companies in Portugal, Cuba, South Africa and Germany.
About 1,200 minefields remain in Angola, covering 26,000 acres, according to the Halo Trust, the British mine-clearance nonprofit that is hosting Prince Harry.
“These are often the poorest people with less access to social services,” said Ralph Legg, Halo Trust’s program manager in Angola.
The problem worsens in Angola’s rainy season when water pushes land mines into fields people think are safe.
In July, a man who works for a lumber company stepped on one, according to victim advocates. He remains hospitalized.
At least 88,000 people in Angola have been wounded by land mines, by the Halo Trust’s latest count. The death toll is unknown.
The fight against buried explosives has grown more complicated since Princess Diana put on her flak jacket, said Paul Heslop, the demining specialist who walked her through the field in Angola.
Mozambique, which was also riddled with land mines after a civil war, announced it was clear in 2015 after a two-decade push. But combatants in Iraq and Syria, for instance, have unleashed a deadly era of homemade bombs.
Heslop hopes Prince Harry’s visit raises as much awareness as his mother’s.
“Her images were broadcast around the world,” he said, “again and again and again.”