April 24, 2002

Fresh Graves, Ghost Towns, and Starving People Discovered in South

Luanda/New York, April 25, 2002 — Over the last few weeks, teams from the international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have come across thousands of starving and sick people, who have been stuck in those regions of Angola to which humanitarian access has been denied for many years. Thousand of civilians have been trapped in some 30 of these so-called "grey zones," without any assistance from relief agencies or the United Nations.

The people trapped in these areas have been caught up in a series of fierce wars, and many have been forced from their homes, often because their villages and homes have been destroyed. Landmines, attacks, and retaliations have prevented them from cultivating their crops, leaving the population destitute and extremely vulnerable.

The consequences are dramatic. Thanks to the ceasefire recently agreed upon between government forces and UNITA, MSF teams have finally been able to access areas previously closed. One MSF medical team assessed the situation in Bunjei, an area situated 116 km from Caala in the south of the country (Huila Province). The team found extremely high mortality rates.

"We counted 14 deaths per day over a population of around 14,000 in Bunjei," said Thierry Allfort-Duverger, leader of the MSF assessment team. "We found more than 1,050 freshly dug graves. Bunjei is a ghost town where displaced and destitute people have been settling since last September."

Malnutrition levels in Bunjei were found to be well above the emergency threshold. 30% of the children examined were severely malnourished and have had to be admitted to emergency therapeutic feeding centers. MSF has also opened a nutritional center for children suffering from moderate malnutrition and has started distributing food and drinking water to 3,500 children below the age of 10. In addition, there are 900 severely malnourished children in the emergency feeding center in Caala city.

A second MSF assessment showed an equally alarming situation in Chilembo, south of Huambo. A basic nutritional survey of 1,219 children showed that 42% of them are malnourished with 10% suffering from severe malnutrition. An emergency therapeutic feeding center and soup kitchen are being set up for the 6,000 uprooted people in the area.

The levels of malnutrition in these two areas are extremely worrying and require an urgent general food distribution. MSF is continuing its assessments of the newly accessible areas and is very concerned that the situation may be equally bad elsewhere. If this is the case, significant humanitarian assistance will be required. MSF itself has tripled the size of its teams in Angola to cope with the need and has set up an air bridge to bring in the necessary supplies.

MSF has been present in Angola since 1983 and more than 80 foreign and 850 local employees are working in 11 out of the 18 provinces of the country.