May 19, 2002
It is harvest time in Angola but the fields are empty, and life for thousands of Angolans has been reduced to a desperate search for food.
Throughout the country, teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are witnessing a deepening nutritional crisis that follows decades of war and forced displacement. Large numbers of people are only now able to leave areas that had been cut-off from any form of assistance for years.
There has been a dramatic increase in severe malnutrition in and around the city of Kuito, with those requiring emergency treatment at MSF's 3 therapeutic feeding centers rising from 560 to 850 in just a few weeks. MSF will open a new TFC to increase their ability to treat 250 more patients, and has plans for a fifth center after an exploratory mission to Chitembo, almost 75 miles to the south, found an urgent situation there. Two MSF supplementary feeding centers in Kuito also supply food for upwards of 3,500 moderately malnourished.
Nearly 120,000 displaced people are crammed into 27 camps ringing the city, with as many as 1,000 more arriving each week. "They are coming from everywhere," said Christiane Jackmuth, a volunteer nurse from Belgium coordinating MSF's work in the camps. In the first week of May, these new arrivals showed a global malnutrition rate of 7.4%.
MSF mobile teams and health posts in two of the largest camps, Chissindo and Belo Horizonte, continue to send up to 30 new patients to the TFCs every day. According to Jackmuth, another camp, Calapuanda, may contain an additional 20,000 people. Since it has not been properly de-mined, though, MSF has not been able to go in to make an assessment.
Kuito itself is completely destroyed. The main road running through the city center, Avenida Joaquim Kapango, served as the front-line between government forces and UNITA rebels when fighting flared in 1993 and again in 1998. Every building on either side of the wide boulevard is partially collapsed from shelling, riddled with bullet holes, and seemingly suspended in the precarious moment just before they fall.
The unfolding crisis has also taken its toll on many of Kuito's 110,000 people. "A larger proportion of those who are dying are residents here," said Eva Verstraete, the coordinator of MSF's nutritional programs in the city.
At Kuito hospital, doctors struggle to cope with 700 patients, almost double the hospital's capacity. "In the pediatric ward, there are three children to a bed," said Dr. Lai Heng Foong, an MSF volunteer from Malaysia. "And sometimes all three are on IV drips." MSF hopes to open another wing to help relieve this severe overcrowding.
So while the 27-year civil war officially ended in April when government troops and UNITA rebels agreed to a cease-fire, the disaster currently emerging in and around cities like Kuito resembles anything but peace.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)