Angola: Lack of assistance undermines sustainable return of IDPs

from Global IDP Project
Published on 29 Mar 2004
The ceasefire agreed between the Angolan government and UNITA in 2002 ended 27 years of civil war and provided the momentum for millions of internally displaced people (IDPs) to return home. More than four million people were displaced before the ceasefire. In early 2004, 450,000 of them were still waiting to go back to their homes, while around 400,000 were expected to settle permanently in their current place of residence. The majority of those IDPs who were able to return have faced a lack of basic services and food insecurity, as well a widespread threat of land mines. Up to 70 per cent of the IDPs have returned to areas which do not comply with the "Norms on the Resettlement and Return of Displaced Populations" adopted by the government in 2002. There are reports of government authorities forcing people to return and evicting others who acquired land and houses in the capital Luanda. In the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda around 23,000 people have been newly displaced since 2002 as a result of a large-scale military operation by the army.
Despite massive needs for assistance to reintegrate the returnees, funding for Angola's millions of IDPs has been utterly inadequate. Donors have expressed a reluctance to finance a government in which corruption and embezzlement is reportedly rife. Lack of donor funding appears to have influenced the decision by the UN to hand over responsibility for the coordination of reintegration and recovery programmes to the government by June 2004. This is expected to happen despite much evidence suggesting the government may not have the competence, nor the political will, to adequately meet their needs.

Background and main causes of displacements

The post-independence war (1974-1992) was a proxy Cold War battlefield in which the two major national groups, MPLA (Movement for the Popular Liberation of Ango la) and UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) were supported by the USSR and the USA respectively. In 1992, UNITA rejected the results of multiparty elections won by the MPLA, and war resumed until the Lusaka ceasefire protocol was signed in 1994. However, the protocol failed to end the violence completely and the two warring parties embarked on another full- scale war in 1998. UNITA, which had lost practically all international support, increasingly targeted the civilian population with maiming, kidnappings and murders. More than three million people were displaced between 1998 and February 2002, when the war ended after MPLA government troops killed UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi.

Large-scale forced displacement of civilians was also used by government troops to prevent the population supporting UNITA (MSF, 5 March 2002). Millions of war-affected people fled from the countryside to the major urban areas which gave them some level of security as well as better access to humanitarian assistance.

For the millions of conflict-affected An-golans who had to manage without access to humanitarian assistance, the effects were devastating. When humanitarian actors gained access to war-affected areas in the aftermath of the cease-fire in 2002, they were met by about two million Angolans on the brink of survival. Around ten UN agencies, more than a hundred international NGOs and several hundred local NGOs assisted the government in its efforts to meet the immediate post-conflict emergency needs. By early 2004, this focus was increasingly shifting to recovery and reconstruction.

Numbers and pattern of return

During June-July 2002, some months after the end of hostilities and soon after the rainy season, millions of internally displaced started returning to their homes. The majority of the returned IDPs have done so without any aid from local authorities or humanitarian age n-cies (UN November 2003). Of the nearly 4.3 million people who were internally displaced in January 2002, only around 450,000 remained displaced as of January 2004. They were mainly located in the provinces of Kuando Kubango, Bié, Kuanza Norte, Huambo, Moxico, Huíla and Luanda. There are no more IDPs in the provinces of Bengo, Cunene, Kuanza Sul, Lunda Norte, Malanje and Zaire (UN OCHA, 31 January 2004). In the midst of the massive return movements, uncertainty over security and the prospects of regaining livelihoods in areas of origin meant many IDPs were cautious. A common return pattern would start with one family member, often either a young male or the head of household, travelling back to assess the situation. Other family members would remain to secure access to humanitarian assistance and wait for the outcome of their returned family members' assessment (ISS, 5 February 2004, p 5).

The reintegration process of demobilised UNITA soldiers was given high priority by the government and as of January 2004, around 92,000 former soldiers and 286,000 of their dependents had returned to their places of origin (UN OCHA, 31 January 2004; UN November 2003).

Protection concerns

The general security situation remained stable throughout 2003, and, according to the UN, war-related violations of human rights, including forced displacement, violent attacks on civilian communities and abductions of women and children have decreased a fter the cease-fire in April 2002. Ho wever, other types of violence and abuses such as sexual harassment, restrictions on freedom of movement, exclusion from social services and humanitarian assistance as well as looting, extortion, property dispossession, and arbitrary detention are still reported, especially in places where state-structures are weak (ISS, 5 February 2004; UN, 18 Nove mber 2003; IRIN, 19 August 2003;UN OCHA, 30 March 2003).

Land mines have been a key factor preventing returnees from farming their land. UNDP estimates that there are between 600,000 and 700,000 landmines in the country in addition to even larger numbers of unexploded ordnance (USAID, 9 May 2001).

In the capital Luanda police forces have evicted thousands of displaced people at gun-point from overcrowded shanty towns, causing death and injuries. The government has justified the evictions by claiming there was a danger of landslides, although some observers say that commercial motives were the reason. Scores of the evicted have had to move into temporary camps and become dependent on food handed out by the authorities (HRW, 1 January 2004; Amnesty International, 12 November 2003; IRIN-SA 24 July 2001).

In the enclave of Cabinda, the Angolan army launched a large-scale military campaign in 2002 against separatist rebels which has caused the displacement of more than 23,000 people. The army appears to have succeeded in dispersing the rebels, but the humanitarian costs of the offens ive have been disastrous. The population has reportedly been exposed to summary executions, rape, torture, destruction of property and pillage of villages, mainly by government forces (HRW, 1 January 2004; Ad hoc-Commission for Human Rights in Cabinda, 3 November 2003; ISS, 31 August 2003; HRW, January 2003). UN access to the enclave has been restricted, and calls upon the Angolan government to acknowledge, investigate and stop such violations, appear so far to have fallen on deaf ears.

Humanitarian needs

The humanitarian situation for most An-golans, including most IDPs and returnees, has improved steadily since the cease-fire agreement was signed in April 2002. In UN surveyed areas, malnutrition dropped from 20-25 per cent to approximately 10 per cent in the first quarter of 2003 and agricultural performance improved substantially in 2002/2003 (UN Nove mber 2003, p. 4). Although malnutrition rates among children have decreased significantly it still remains the underlying cause in 55 per cent of child mortality cases. It is also estimated that every year 235,000 children are born mentally impaired as a consequence of iodine deficiency (UNICEF, 1 February 2004) The situation is further curtailed by exceptionally heavy rain in the 2003/2004 harvest. In the densely populated province of Huambo more than one million people have returned, crops have been destroyed and an estimated decline of around 60 per cent in the production of maize is expected. Other affected Provinces include Huíla, Uíge, Benguela, Huíla, Bie, and Cunene. In spite of improved humanitarian conditions since the cease-fire, the overall recovery of food security has not reached a satisfactory level. The World Food Programme, which seemingly no longer differentiates between IDPs, refugees and demobilised soldiers, distributed food to nearly 1.7 million people in January 2004 expecting the numbers of beneficiaries to increase as a consequence of the reported crop destruction (UN OCHA, 7 March,

22 February 2004; USAID-FEWS, 11 March 2004). Follo wing the war-related break-down of public services the ove r-all public health situation remains critical although it has improved compared to the situation during the emergency phase in 2002 (UN OCHA, 31 January 2004; USAID, 7 January 2004).

Humanitarian access

Heavy rain in January and February 2004 aggravated access for humanitarian agencies to returned IDPs and refugees, mainly in the Provinces of Benguela, Huíla, Bie, and Cunene. The rains further increase the threat of mine accidents in a country with large areas of unmapped mine- fields. In addition, a great number of broken bridges as well as deplorable road conditions further hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Most of the areas of return are far from major roads.

Inadequate response

Lack of funding has been the main constraint affecting humanitarian operations over the past years. The poor funding is related to what donors and other observers consider insufficient commitment by the government. Many donors and aid workers wonder why a country so rich in natural resources cannot afford to better alleviate the suffering of its own people. Angola has one of the biggest oil reserves in the world and the foreign owned offshore oil industry accounts for over 90 per cent of state revenue. The country is also the world's fourth largest diamond producer. Allegations of corruption and embezzlement are rife, in spite of the government's clear and unambiguous public commitment to account for all its oil revenues (Global Witness, 20 June 2003). According to an International Monetary Fund report, about US$ 1 billion could not be accounted for in 2002 - approximately one third of the entire state revenue. At the same time the Angolan government is seeking substantial donor support for its national reconstruction programme which includes the reintegration of IDPs as well as ex-combatants (APM 14 January 2004). Before responding many donors expect the Angolan government to provide a firmer commitment to fiscal transparency and to make clear efforts to end alleged corruption.

The result is that as of March 2004, only three out of 45 appealing organisations had received funding through the UN Consolidated Appeal for 2004 (UN OCHA, 24 March 2004). The returned IDPs and those still displaced are paying a high price for this lack of funding in terms of child- mortality, food-insecurity, disputes over land use and tenure, and mine incidents. Moreover, despite its record of failing to respond adequately to the needs of IDPs, the government is expected to take over coordination of relief and recovery responsibilities from the UN by June 2004. Thus, the UN appears to be crediting the government with a level of competency which disregards the miserable reality on the ground.

Note: The full Angola country profile is available online at