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Survival of thousands of Angolans constantly threatened

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France - Five months after the April 4 cease-fire that put an end to the armed confrontations in Angola, the situation remains drastic throughout the country, demanding an emergency response for hundreds of thousands of people. The prospects for the future are, at the very least, worrying.

The Therapeutic Feeding Centre (TFC) in Bailundo, a three hour drive from the provincial capital of Huambo, currently accommodates more than 700 severely malnourished children. "In all of the cities and villages we have been in the Bailundo municipality, at least 7% of the children were severely malnourished," explains Thierry Allafort-Duverger, MSF head of the emergency department.

"It is still just a question of survival in these zones" Although the number of admissions of severely malnourished children is declining in the Caala TFC (230 children currently being treated), the MSF teams are continuing to care for the vital needs of an extremely vulnerable population.

MSF teams are still trying to reach remote locations where there is word of more displaced, but access is extremely difficult: mines, destroyed bridges and armed robbery constantly threatens access to these civilian populations who exist in a state of mere survival.

Despite the gravity of the food situation, well documented by the 174 expatriate volunteers and the 2,200 Angolans mobilized by MSF for this emergency, the food distributions in the civilian regroupment zones remain uncertain. In the quartering and family areas (QFAs), accommodating ex-Unita soldiers and their families, a global response is being put into place.

But, for all these populations that shall be dependent on food aid until the next harvests in the spring of 2003, the outlook for the future is critical: "People are hungry and cold. They are sick.

The aid that has been brought in is largely insufficient: an irregular food aid that only covers a meagre part of the affected zones, little or no access to care, nothing to clothe themselves or cover themselves during the night.

The vast majority of displaced have not received any seeds to plant. Their survival until next April depends entirely on the assistance given to them " Moreover, since 1997 no vaccination effort has taken place in these long-inaccessible zones. A measles epidemic within a malnourished population would be catastrophic. MSF has been gradually undertaking vaccination campaigns at the same time as the emergency food distributions, but this approach will not provide coverage to all those in need.

MSF has been present in Angola since 1983. Today more than 174 expatriate volunteers and more 2200 national staff work in 11 of the 18 provinces in Angola.