A peace agreement in Angola opens up
formerly isolated areas of the country, revealing a population
deprived of external aid for three years...
Full Name: Els Adams
Profession: Public Health
Read frequently asked
questions about the MSF projects featured in the series and
give us your own feedback
Episode: "The Choice"
A Rapidly Developing Crisis
In this episode of Doctors Without Borders: Life in
the Field, National Geographic film crews document a particularly
difficult moment in the early stages of a devastating nutritional
crisis that struck Angola in the spring and summer of 2002. A cease-fire
had just brought the 27-year civil war in Angola to an end, opening
up regions of the country in which people had been without access
to food or medical aid. Although war caused the malnutrition and
disease, peace in Angola allowed it to be seen and addressed for
the first time by relief agencies – the result was an unsuspected
and rapidly developing humanitarian emergency.
When volunteer Els Adams goes on a preliminary assessment
visit to a government-run quartering area for former UNITA rebels,
it is the first by any humanitarian aid worker to that particular
area. She finds an overwhelming number of malnourished women and
children – more than her truck can carry.
Els knows that an MSF truck will return to the area
the next day, and the day after that. But without assistance from
United Nations agencies or the Angolan government, which were slow
to respond to the emergency, Els and MSF are forced to make difficult
decisions regarding which patients to transfer back to MSF feeding
centers, when so many lives are at stake. Unfortunately, during
this stage of the crisis, the terrible scene that appears in this
episode was happening daily, in many parts of the country.
Malnutrition and Lack of Medical Care: A Legacy
The starvation did not begin in spring 2002. Fighting
in Angola’s civil war had resumed in November 1998 after an
aborted peace agreement, and this new phase quickly became one of
the cruelest periods of the conflict. Civilians caught in contested
areas were specifically targeted; many were forced to fight, and
their villages were burned along with their crops. They were subjected
to systematic violence.
Tens of thousands were displaced from their homes
time and again, either fleeing on their own or forced to flee by
the warring parties. As the war raged on, they spent long years
in the bush or captive in military encampments. MSF estimates that
up to 500,000 people were trapped in these "gray areas."
Access of humanitarian aid workers to the areas where
this was all happening was denied from November 1998 until early
2002, when the death of longtime rebel leader Jonas Savimbi paved
the way for a cease-fire and subsequent peace agreement between
the government and União Nacional para a Independência
Total de Angola (UNITA) rebels. Starting in March, the gray areas
opened up, revealing huge populations that had been isolated from
food and medical care for three years.
Months after episode one was filmed in Malange province,
the widespread malnutrition witnessed by MSF teams throughout Angola
last year was brought largely under control. MSF’s supplementary
and therapeutic feeding programs, a decent fall harvest, a late,
but effective response from the international community, and revitalized
commerce and trade all helped to mitigate the crisis in late 2002.
For many Angolans, however, these factors were too
little and far too late – untold thousands lost their lives,
and the repercussions of the nutritional crisis continue to be felt
throughout the country.
In response to the remaining large-scale, serious
health needs in Angola, MSF maintains an extremely strong presence
in the country. As of June, 2003, more than 100 MSF volunteers and
approximately 1,900 national staff members are currently working
in 11 of 18 Angolan provinces. MSF is supervising or supporting
11 hospitals and 32 health posts, offering consultations to more
than 28,000 people each month. In addition, MSF currently operates
eight therapeutic and 15 supplementary feeding centers, treating
485 and 9,135 patients respectively. In early 2003, in the Huambo
province, MSF performed a blanket food distribution to reach 21,000
children under five years of age.
The specter of malnutrition continues to haunt Angola,
and will, until adequate money and resources are directed towards
the problem by the Angolan government and the international community.
In a country with a population of around 12 million inhabitants,
of which an estimated 2.8 million are displaced, MSF remains extremely
concerned about the lack of access to quality primary health care
for many Angolans.
To read more about MSF
in Angola, click here: