Population deprived of assistance
9 November 2000
MSF has been present in Angola since 1983. From this date until 1997, MSF teams worked with the Angolan populations in both government-controlled zones and those controlled by Unita, then in 1997 under the control of the GURN (the Government of Unity and National Reconciliation). The resumption of the conflict in 1998 and increasing security problems forced MSF to close many programmes: in Chicomba, Caconda and Quilenges (Huila Province), Songo and Maquela do Zombo (Uige Province), Quiculungo (Kwanza Norte Province), M'Banza Congo, Noqui and Cuimba (Zaire Province), Calandula, Massango, Mucari, Quela and Cambundi - Catembo (Malange Province), Camacupa and Chitembo (Bié Province), Lumege and Luau (Moxico Province). The closure of these programmes left the population of these areas without assistance.
In Malange, for example, before the resumption of the conflict, MSF supported 14 structures of health in five districts of the province, which represented in 1997: 152,408 consultations for a population estimated at 200,000 people. The resumption of the conflict and insecurity in the area led MSF to leave its programme of primary health care in May 1998. Today, MSF is unable to return to any of the health structures of these 5 districts.
Since 1993 MSF has run a campaign against Human African Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness, 100% fatal without treatment) in 4 districts of Kwanza Norte (Conguembo, Quiculungo, N'Dalatando and Golungo Alto.) The resumption of the war reduced MSF access to these endemic zones. Today, only patients Golungo Alto district are being again treated by MSF.
Today, due to insecurity problems, supplies cannot be delivered by road, forcing MSF to transport the medical and nutritional supplies by air. But poor infrastructure sometimes makes it difficult to deliver the assistance.
The runway of Kuito airport, for example, is in such a bad condition that it is likely to become unusable during the rainy season. Despite repeated requests from humanitarian groups, nothing has been done to improve it. If air rotations stopped, the population of Kuito and the surrounding area would be left without help.
Moreover, MSF can only work in the provincial capitals or sometimes districts centres in the government-controlled zone, but never in the whole of the provinces or the districts. Indeed, beyond a supposedly-secured perimeter from 5 to 30 kilometres around the towns, the roads and fields are heavily mined and prone to attacks. At present, apart from this extremely limited perimeter of intervention, MSF does not have any access to a large part of Angola and its population, in particular the Unita-held zone.
On August 27, 2000, a mine exploded during a the passage of a convoy of three civil trucks on the road between Ménongue and Cuchi, leaving 8 dead and 10 serious casualties, all of whom were admitted at the hospital of Ménongue which is supported by MSF.
Access to the district of Cangandala (Malange Province) where there is a displaced camp 30 kilometres south of the town of Malange where MSF works, only became possible in February 2000. Access remains fragile: a mine accident on the road killed 2 people and interrupted all humanitarian assistance (feeding centres, food distribution, health centres) in March and April. Two weeks after the closing of the road, patients from feeding centres in Cangandala managed to reach the feeding centres in Malange, arriving in a critical state. Two incidents in October (attack in a village district resulting in nine deaths and discovery of a mine scattered across a road) again interrupted all humanitarian assistance.
For the last two years, the United Nations has given up demanding access to Unita zones to ensure the protection of civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people are paying a heavy price for this lack of initiative. The United Nations should seek impartial access to vulnerable populations, regardless of political motivations.