May 06, 2002

Traumatized Families Emerging From Remote Areas More Dead Than Alive

Luanda/New York, May 7, 2002 — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is increasingly alarmed by the extent of the current nutritional crisis in Angola. Since the beginning of the Angolan peace process, formerly inaccessible areas are slowly opening up. Thousands who have been living in isolation for years without sufficient food and shelter are now able to seek assistance and be reached by aid organizations. Most people are severely malnourished. Many are dying en route to aid and many more will die unless immediate action is taken.

Three days ago an MSF medical team conducted rapid assessments in two recently opened areas of Malange province in north-central Angola. Unita soldiers and their family members, many of whom were forcibly recruited during the civil war, are emerging from surrounding rural areas to these designated "quartering" areas in order to be demobilized. The MSF assessment team found an estimated death rate of 7 per 10,000 people/day—seven times the emergency threshold. MSF has begun to transfer the most severely malnourished children to therapeutic feeding centers in Malange town.

"The sight of so many people in such a devastating state is overwhelming. It seems the weak have already died, and the strong are already weak. I spoke to quite a few women who had lost all their children. There are just no words for the suffering of the people," says Els Adams, MSF Project Coordinator in Malange.

Projections are frightening. Only one third of the population outside Malange has emerged from the remote rural areas. According to those who have reached accessible areas, there are many sick and malnourished people among the roughly 7,000 people who are still en route. Sadly, those most in need are likely too weak to attempt the arduous walk. They have endured extreme hardship and have had no access to healthcare since the resumption of the war in 1998.

Over the last two weeks MSF has opened three new therapeutic feeding centers in Malange, bringing the total to 5 centers in this town alone. By now, a total of 360 children and adults have been admitted for therapeutic feeding. MSF teams are giving similar accounts about malnutrition from other locations in Angola, such as Chipindo, Bunjei, Chilembo, and Chitembo, where MSF is also stepping up its aid efforts.

MSF urges the government of Angola to address the emergency health needs of Unita family members, including delivery of food, vaccination of children, and transportation of those still in remote areas. MSF has requested the United Nations to immediately respond to the crisis. Up until now, the UN has refused to enter the quartering areas. The World Food Program (WFP) should immediately implement a general food distribution for civilians in the quartering areas, to prevent the nutritional status of the population from worsening. MSF states that the international community must take urgent action, and enable other humanitarian agencies to intervene.

Malnutrition in Angola by Province (as of May 6, 2002)