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Angola: An Alarming Nutritional Situation
August 1, 1999
1.6 million Angolans are currently displaced.
Angola’s civil war has ravaged the country and devastated its population for more than thirty years. After a brief interlude, the breakdown of the 1994 Lusaka Protocol reignited the war in December 1998. Civilians are once again experiencing a new bout of insecurity and suffering. What could be one of the richest countries on the African continent has become one of its most desolate and depressed.
The humanitarian consequences of the ongoing conflict are tremendous, with large numbers of Angolans displaced, living away from homes, fields, crops, and livelihoods. Displacement puts severe strains on basic health care systems, clean water, food, and shelter in the host communities. In addition, growing numbers of Angolans in need of assistance are vulnerable to multiple security risks, which in turn imperil their access to humanitarian aid.
Even where civilians are free to access relief, humanitarian agencies face numerous challenges in trying to reach the most vulnerable, such as closed airports, unsafe roads, landmines, threats to the life of humanitarian personnel, and outright denials of access. In places where agencies have been able to enter an area and establish health and nutritional programs, insecurity can lead to short and long-term interruptions of vital services, with devastating consequences.
There are reports of alarming malnutrition rates among populations experiencing limited or no access to humanitarian aid. Many theraputic and supplementary feeding programs will be needed in order to address the needs in Malange alone. Other towns in Angola - such as Kuito, Luena, and Menonge - also have higher than average malnutrition rates and require sustained programs in order to address the needs. The situation may be worse in areas that remain inaccessible.
Malange: Malnutrition Affects Children and Adults Alike
"We have a field 12 kilometers from Malange town, where we grew vegetables for ourselves and to trade. Since March this year, we have not been to our field. We are afraid of going there because we know there are new mines and a lot of fighting going on there. Our food comes from our field. The prices of basic items have skyrocketed in Malange and the other provincial capitals, Kuito and Huambo. In Malange, I have to pay 25 million kwanzas (11 USD) for a kilogram of salt, and a bar of soap now costs 30 million kwanzas (13 USD). Who can afford this? Life is becoming more and more difficult. I will have to earn some money here in Luanda and take salt and soap back to the rest of my family in Malange."
Access of humanitarian aid to towns such as Malange is plagued with difficulties. The road from Luanda is open but very insecure due to regular attacks. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has managed to bring in some food using road convoys and air transport but the needs clearly surpass the amounts currently provided. Even where access to a population has been achieved, relief programs suffer from continued insecurity. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) feeding programs in Malange and Kuito have each been interrupted by evacuations at least once in the past nine months.
After a four-month withdrawal due to insecurity, Doctors Without Borders returned to Malange in late July, 1999. The situation in Malange is desperate. Trade has been disrupted, access to fields for cultivation is limited to insecurity and landmines, and food prices have been steadily rising over the past month. As a result, the nutrition has deteriorated to alarming levels, affecting both children and adults. Since August 11th, Doctors Without Borders has opened three feeding centers in Malange, providing intensive feeding for 700 children.
Increases in Wounded Civilians
"Dr. Alexander Popov, Doctors Without Borders volunteer surgeon from Russia who has been working in Kuito, Angola since 1996, says "In the last few years, I have seen many cases of civilians wounded by the war." He walks to the post operation room and points to two women on whom he has just operated. "We have two cases here from Katabola. One is the daughter who is 22 years old, she was in the field cultivating and stepped on a land mine. Her mother, then ran to help her and another mine exploded." The women had freshly bandaged stumps just below the knee and were sleeping. He explained: "Ninety percent of my work is dealing with civilians who have wounds from gunshots, grenades, mines, and other weapons. They come here from all over the province, and they are of all ages - women, men and children."
In Kuito, where Doctors Without Borders runs a surgical program, the effects of renewed conflict are reflected in the alarming increase in the number of victims of explosive and gunshot wounds. In the first six months of 1998, Doctors Without Borders treated 13 cases of landmine or gunshot wounds. In the first six months of 1999, Doctors Without Borders treated 354 such cases - a 27-fold increase over the same period the previous year. The civilians of Kuito are also suffering increases in cases of malnutrition. Attendance records from Doctors Without Borders' intensive feeding program in Kuito show that admissions in the first six months of 1999 are almost two and a half times higher than in the same period in 1998.