Angola

Angola: Painful period of transition

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LUANDA, 27 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - After three years of peace, Angola - rich in diamonds and oil - still faces a complex mix of humanitarian and developmental challenges.

"We believe that the donors are giving up sooner than they probably should. It's not fair or accurate to say, 'the war is over; the emergency is over now, so we can stop giving aid'. We should reduce relief but not end it; there's still a need for relief aid," said World Food Programme (WFP) country director Rick Corsino.

"Just because oil [was recently] over [US] $61 a barrel does not mean all the problems in the country will be fixed - over the very long term that may be the case, but this country's been devastated by war," he explained. In July the agency was still feeding about 700,000 people, but had to shelve plans to expand its programme due to funding constraints.

"We're an underfunded programme. What we have to carefully do is prioritise each month: we've got a small medical support programme - people with tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, leprosy, etc; and then there are the recent returnees, and we don't want to miss them; we don't want to start school feeding programmes and have to stop [because of a lack of funding]," he said.

The school feeding programme, seen as a critical incentive for parents to send their children to school, has had to shelve plans for expansion.

"We originally planned to reach 400,000 schoolchildren by the end of the year; now we're going to reach about 200,000. Angolans in rural areas lost the habit of sending their kids to school - the kids are an economic asset to the household, they gather wood, etc - the incentive is if the child will get fed at school, then it's one less meal the household needs to find," Corsino commented.

The agency was currently reaching about 380,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returning refugees. "We want to provide rations for one agricultural season - it gives them a chance to put up some shelter, plant some fields and get some kind of harvest. We originally wanted to do it over two agricultural seasons, but there's not enough food to do that, so we're restricted to one," said Corsino.

There were some exceptions, as field assessments showed that in some areas "they just have not been able to make it".

Angola has experienced four consecutive years of improved national harvest, and although the general food deficit in the country was diminishing, the shortfall of staple crops for 2005/06 was 800,000 mt and there were pockets of need across the country.

Pierre-Francois Pirlot, the UN Resident Coordinator, told IRIN that the presence of landmines and Angola's shattered infrastructure often prevented humanitarian agencies from accessing people in need.

"But it must be seen in context - it is but one of the priorities of the government. The areas to which people have been returning have been neglected for decades, even during the colonial period, and this was exacerbated by the war and by political divisions in some of these areas," Pirlot pointed out.

With resources and services concentrated in the capital, Luanda, Angola's provinces still lagged and it was "time to give a lot of attention to the provinces", said Pirlot.

In terms of opening access, experts have estimated that it would take seven to eight years to "arrive at an acceptable level [of mine clearance] in the regions, and the infrastructure in the country needs to be entirely rebuilt", he noted.

However, there was "some reticence" among donors to support ongoing humanitarian projects. "The argument is that humanitarian needs exist everywhere in the world, even in places like London and New York, except there they are called social needs," Pirlot said.

"So, in the transition period you may see a reduction in the welfare of part of the population - the initial effect [of a drop in aid] may be a slight depression [in services] - but UN agencies and NGOs are adapting," he added.

The main focus of development efforts should be aimed at reducing poverty in a society with some of the worst human development indicators in the world, but also an extremely wealthy elite.

Luxury vehicles and other signs of wealth jar with the sight of streetchildren and beggars in Luanda city. The skyscrapers of diamond and oil companies tower above the sight and smell of refuse in the city streets. The wealthy reside in guarded compounds and enjoy the fruits of Angola's peace dividend, but as the World Bank noted, "the lack of substantial economic activity outside of the oil and diamond sectors has left most Angolans without sustainable incomes".

As a result, the distribution of wealth remains extremely unequal and this could be a primer for explosive social tensions.

"Most problematic is going to be the social tensions arising out of having an extremely young population and a high level of unemployment. We need to address it early," Pirlot warned.

According to UN statistics, Angola was one of the worst places in the world to be a child. The UN Children's Fund noted that "years of almost continuous war devastated basic health and education services, attributed to one of the world's worst child mortality rates, crippled capacity and productivity, and destroyed the social and economic fabric" of Angolan society.

Almost half of Angola's children are out of school, 45 percent suffer chronic malnutrition and a quarter of children die before their fifth birthday.

Government capacity remained weak, and contributing to the creation of a properly functioning public administration was the key challenge facing development partners and agencies, Pirlot said.

"Everything we do goes in that direction. We have to be pragmatic in addressing the weaknesses, particularly at central level, and by empowering authorities in the provinces," he concluded.

[ENDS]

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