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Famine rages across Huambo province

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Paris/Luanda - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)'s latest exploratory missions to Angola's Huambo province confirm severe food and medical conditions there.

Since the beginning of April, MSF has been conducting evaluations of the humanitarian needs in previously isolated areas of the country, now accessible as a result of the peace process. In response to extremely grave conditions in Huambo province and elsewhere, the organization has expanded its emergency programs.

Mortality and malnutrition rates recorded at each of the MSF sites are five to ten times above the emergency threshold levels. The figures speak to the profound suffering of the population and their risk of death if massive and immediate aid does not reach them.

Our teams observed two population groupings. The first includes fairly sizable quartering areas for Unita soldiers and their families. The other includes settlements where government forces have transferred civilians. While food and supplies have been distributed at two of these sites, the others have nothing and, specifically, no food.

An MSF team recently visited northern Huambo in the Bailundo region. Grouped into three quartering areas and four villages, the population has yet to receive any aid.

"Malnutrition is very visible, even among children of more than 5 years of age," says emergency team physician Sabine Roquefort, noting this indicator of severe nutritional conditions.

This week, MSF is sending a seven-member emergency team with supplies to Bailundo. The team will set up a new therapeutic feeding center that can treat 600 children. Mobile medical teams assisted by local health promoters will conduct emergency measles vaccinations of persons under 15. The team will also screen and refer ill and severely malnourished people to the Bailundo hospital, which will receive donated medicines.

Evaluations conducted in eastern Huambo (specifically in Catchiungo and Sambo) reveal an equally catastrophic situation that has overwhelmed the capacities and resources of humanitarian organizations.

For that reason, MSF urges the Angolan government and international organizations to organize immediate food distributions throughout Huambo province, as well as in provinces facing similar conditions. This action is necessary to prevent a dramatic worsening in the nutritional status - and even the death - of tens of thousands of Angolans.

With more than 1,000 admissions each week, MSF today cares for 3,500 children in 22 therapeutic feeding centers across the country. There are 172 international and more than 1,000 national MSF staff currently working in 11 of the Angola's 18 provinces.