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Warring parties' neglect adds to humanitarian emergencies

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Luanda - The international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today expressed sharp criticism towards the warring parties in Angola for showing a blatant neglect of their responsibility to ease human suffering, often created by them, of tens of thousands in the country.

In a briefing document issued in the Angolan capital Luanda today, the organisation states that the Angolan government and the Unita rebels are intensifying the ongoing humanitarian crises in the war-torn country, both by their immediate actions and by neglect of the consequences. Not only are the two parties using the displacement of civilians in their strategies of war, they also fail to live up to their responsibilities to provide food and health care once the civilians find themselves in the areas they control. There, civilians often remain out of reach of international humanitarian assistance because of insecurity and lack of negotiated access. As a result, thousands of sick and malnourished people have no choice but to flee once more in search of such assistance.

The most obvious examples of areas of concern are the towns of Cuemba, in Bie province, and Mussende, Cuanza Sul province. Both are pockets of territory under government control, while the surrounding areas remain unstable due to Unita presence. Both towns shelter large populations of displaced people. The government does little or nothing to give relief to the displaced who badly need nutritional and medical help.

Figures cannot always be confirmed by MSF, but it is clear that malnutrition and mortality rates are alarmingly high in Cuemba and Mussende, far above emergency thresholds: in April, MSF in Camacupa found 28% global acute malnutrition among the displaced living there, while the Ministry of Health (MoH) reported 46% in Cuemba internally displaced site. MSF transferred more than 700 severely malnourished children from Camacupa and Cuemba to Kuito, in Bie province, for admission in its therapeutic feeding centres. The previous month, 33% of global acute malnutrition was found by MoH among displaced people from the town of Mussende.

Since that time, and despite the dramatic figures, the authorities have not provided any nutritional assistance to the people, not even to the severely-malnourished children.

"MSF is worried that Cuemba, Camacupa and Mussende are not isolated cases, but the emerging tip of humanitarian crises in many Angolan localities that are beyond the security perimeters and therefore out of reach of international humanitarian aid," says Marc Poncin, MSF representative.

Field workers hear - but are unable to verify - reports from IDPs that similar suffering exists in other areas under government control - yet beyond access, like Massango, in Malange province, and Luando, in Bie province. As far as Unita-controlled areas are concerned, no access has been possible since the resumption of the war by late 1998. However, there is no reason to assume that the situation would be less dramatic in these areas.

According to estimates by the UN, about 500,000 people throughout Angola are out of reach of aid organisations. Even in provincial capitals under government control like Kuito, negligence gravely contributes to these emergencies.

A new epidemic of pellagra, a fatal disease if not cured and linked to malnutrition, has recently broken out among the displaced and resident population in Kuito, with 70 to 80 new cases a week. More beneficiaries, originally from Kuito, are being admitted in the MSF feeding centres.

While the government claims to control over 90% of Angolan territory, the basic conditions for providing humanitarian assistance exist in only a very small part of the country. To a large extent, this is because negotiated access for impartial and neutral assistance has not been addressed by the international community and the parties to the conflict. Hereby denying the right of populations in need to receive humanitarian support.

MSF has been working in Angola since 1983, and now works with 80 international volunteers and 850 national staff.