Angola + 14 more

OXFAM Emergencies Bulletin Dec 1999 Africa: The forgotten emergencies

In Africa, millions of lives are being threatened by wars that have driven people from their homes and ruined their livelihoods. However, peace could be attained by an immediate increase in international humanitarian assistance and a long-term political commitment to uphold peace agreements.
Angola, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo are desperately poor with all but one falling within the world's fifteen poorest countries. They have all suffered from long-running wars, and their abundance of natural resources have been exploited to further these conflicts. There is now a real opportunity to build lasting peace in these countries, but they are crippled by immediate humanitarian needs.

Oxfam believes that donors are right to place conditions on the provision of aid, but it would be wrong to hold civilians to ransom by placing conditions on humanitarian relief because of the way their governments spend their money. The response to the needs in Kosovo has shown what can be achieved when there is political determination to bring about peace. The international community needs to show the same level of commitment to these countries as it did in Kosovo.


Angola has been at war for over 25 years, resulting in one of the worst land-mine problems in the world, with between 8 - 20 million mines. Since their war for independence from Portuguese rule, beginning in 1961, powerful external forces have exacerbated existing divisions. The latest stage of the war began when UNITA, the losing party, rejected the results of UN-brokered elections in 1992. Around 800,000 people have been killed and more than a million have been forced from their homes. Fighting over the main cities of Kuito, Malanje and Huambo between UNITA rebels and government troops has resulted in a humanitarian crisis of mass displacement and poor nutrition and health. There are roughly 200 deaths from malnutrition a day across the country, and one quarter of children die before they reach the age of five. Aid can presently only be routed by air, but this is expensive and dangerous.

The international community now needs to apply pressure to renew the peace talks in Angola, to press arms suppliers to stop shipments, to increase the funding for human rights operations and to provide swift humanitarian relief. It must ensure that ordinary Angolan society is involved in upholding their rights and working to create the conditions for an inclusive, democratic society.

Oxfam has substantially expanded its programme to meet the needs of around 70,000 people in Kuito, and more in Huambo and elsewhere, including importing plastic sheeting to contribute towards an adequate stock of relief items. Two air mobile drilling rigs are being deployed and longer-term operations in Kuito scaled up to provide safe water to help avert the risk of disease. These operate in a programme co-ordinating social mobilisation with physical needs centred on the provision of clean water and sanitation. Operations have been resumed in Kuito following a recent period of insecurity when the majority of Oxfam staff were evacuated.


Oxfam has provided access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, shelter materials and clothing for 150,000 people displaced by the border conflict in the central and eastern zone of Tigray. Due to food insecurity, Oxfam food distribution work to 126,000 people is currently on-going until December in the Ethiopian regions of North Wollo and East Hararghe. With unpredictable rainfalls and a lack of good quality soil, the problem continues to be an issue with a possible 5 million Ethiopians currently facing famine. If this is to be avoided, the food aid that has been pledged by the international community needs to be delivered without delay. Oxfam is monitoring the situation for indicators of next year's harvest, due in January.


Ethiopia and Eritrea were allies against Eritrea's Italian colonisers but became enemies when Ethiopia annexed Eritrea in violation of International Law. Border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea started in May 1998 over 160 square miles of territory of North Tigray around Badme. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) developed a framework which has been accepted in principle by both sides, but the dispute remains unresolved because of disagreements over implementation. The conflict, combined with widespread food insecurity, has intensified humanitarian suffering. There are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people within Ethiopia and Eritrea, and there are stories of Eritrean nationals being expelled from Ethiopia, and vice versa.

Concentrations of about 500,000 internally displaced people (IDP's) in Gash Barka and Debub zones in Eritrea have put host communities under considerable pressure for shelter, food and water, with many living in caves or make-shift shelters. Oxfam International is about to complete a five month emergency water and sanitation response in Gash Barka which has established a quality registration and relief planning system, and ensured the provision of good quality water and sanitation to four displaced camps in the zone, housing people from the most vulnerable displaced groups. The project has helped to establish excellent relationships with the local government authority and Oxfam is currently exploring the possibility of further emergency work in the area, subject to funding, assisting those displaced by war and living in camps. A recent letter from the Eritrean government praised Oxfam for its successful programme in providing aid to displaced people and requested Oxfam to continue its work in the country for a number of years.

Sierra Leone

The conflict in Sierra Leone has largely been based on the control of the country's significant natural resources. The Revolutionary United Front, lead by Foday Sadkoh has been in civil war with the government since 1991. A full-scale attack on Freetown, led by the RUF in January 1999 eventually led to the signing of a cease-fire on 24 May, and the on-going facilitation of peace negotiations in Lome. A recently named cabinet now includes 3 RUF members.

Mass displacement of people from insecure areas has led to social and economic breakdown in all areas, over stretching public services and destroying much of the rural economy and peoples livlihoods. The country now suffers a chronic food deficit and is reliant on external aid. 70% of the country remains under the control of rebel groups. The security situation has exacerbated the severity of access to food and in large areas of the country, particularly the north and east, humanitarian access is totally precluded. The poor public health situation is further confounded by lack of basic services such as water and primary health care, and the survival of 1.5 million people is dependent on emergency relief, UN peace-keepers, long-term aid and the demobilisation of fighters. The UN Security Council have voted to send a 6,000 strong peace-keeping force to replace the UN Observer mission and ECOMOG forces. They are expected to arrive shortly and have been authorised to use force to protect civilians.

Oxfam works with 55,000 people in Freetown, Kenema in the east, and Bo and Blama in the south where civil conflict has impacted on the provision of adequate drinking supplies. Emergency water sources have been provided for displaced people accommodated in the national sports stadium in Freetown in addition to several other 'official' IDP camps, and IDP camps in Bo. Other programmes have supplied water for 38,000 people outside of Freetown, and are helping improve water and sanitation to the displaced in areas threatened by disease, such as Kenema and the Lungi peninsula. Oxfam is working to establish water and sanitation and promote hygiene in camps throughout the Eastern and Southern Province. Conditions for the local population of Kailahun, in the east of the country, are believed to be poor.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

In 1991, civilians joined soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then named Zaire) in armed rebellion against President Mabuto's massively corrupt government. After six years of conflict in May 1997, Laurant Kabila at the head of the Alliance des forces democratiques pour la liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL) took Kinshasa. However, the civil war drew in military forces from neighbouring states, with Uganda and Rwanda supporting the rebel movement which occupies much of the eastern portion of the state. The heads of state of six nations finally signed a peace accord in Lusaka in July 1999, but tensions continue.

The recent Lusaka Peace Accord has gradually succeeded in opening up the country to humanitarian assistance. As the country becomes more accessible, immense humanitarian needs are being uncovered. In Kivu in the East, the war has stopped all economic activity and inter-ethnic violence has hindered farming. In the capital, Kinshasa, inflation is rampant and the poor can barely afford to eat. It is estimated that 750,000 internally displaced people are still being subjected to continued violence, and across the region, 3.9 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Oxfam has offices in Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu. After the outbreak of the civil war in the DRC, the expatriate management team were forced to evacuate to Rwanda but kept access to the programmes in Kivu by maintaining a presence in Kigali. Oxfam is working in Shabunda district to mitigate the effects of cholera. A programme is currently being devised to provide for the needs of internally displaced people. Two sites have been identified and water, sanitation and hygiene promotion are underway. It is hoped that this project will then fan out to further sites in the area as they become more accessible.

Guinea Bissau

The peace accord signed on 1 November 1998 between the forces loyal to General Absumane Mane and the Senegalese backed forces loyal to the President Bernado Vieira continued to hold until recently. In January there was a decline again into conflict leading to thousands reportedly fleeing the capital city of Bissau.

When fighting began in August 1998 people fled the capital. The population between Bafata and Bissau swelled by two to three times. The water supply system in this area was put under great strain. Oxfam made a rapid intervention and has since completed the rehabilitation of bore-holes in the Bafata area and protection of the spring supplying water to the majority of local residents. Oxfam conducted a recent health survey which concluded that there were no further immediate humanitarian needs, although this of course may change in the light of recent events.


Towards the end of 1989 a small group of armed rebels, led by Charles Taylor, invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast, and by June 1990, all but the capital, Monrovia, was in rebel hands. Despite signing a cease-fire agreement Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia refused to recognise the authority of the ECOMOG supported government of National Unity, and civil war continued for another six years. Elections in July 1997 swept Mr Taylor to victory, partly because many Liberians feared the consequences if he lost. Fears of an eventual return to violence remained high, and Charles Taylor's government is repeatedly accused of aiding RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.

Seven years of war have destroyed Liberia's public services and infrastructure, and left irreparable social divisions. Most are accommodated in UNHCR managed camps, however there remain several isolated and self-sustained camps in the Grand Cape Mount region close to the border and there are concerns for water and sanitation in these. Oxfam has identified two such communities, Buloma with 400 people, and Somba with a population of 220, that need water and sanitation assistance in order to reduce the risk of contagious disease. Oxfam is providing a hand-pump well in Buloma as water is currently sourced from a contaminated stream. Communal latrines and washrooms will be fitted in both camps.


During October and November of this year, abnormally high rainfall has resulted in the river bursting its banks in several places causing widespread destruction of homes and livlihoods. Kaedi, a town on the Senegal River about 420 km south of the capital, was the first to be hit, and roughly 100 villages on both sides of the river have been affected. As a result of the rainfall, dams have had to be opened exacerbating floods and causing widespread inundation of agricultural land, just prior to the harvest greatly increasing food insecurity. Due to the extent of the damage the government had now called upon NGOs to assist in the relief effort.

A crisis committee of NGOs, UN agencies and governmental institutions has been formed to deal with the crisis and have developed a proposed response to the needs of flood victims. Oxfam will work with community leaders to support the flood-affected community in Kaedi through the provision of temporary shelter for 116 families made homeless by the floods, and clothing to 762 displaced people as a one-off distribution.

As the situation in the area bordering the Senegalese River continues to deteriorate, Oxfam will make provisions for an assessment team to collect information on the outstanding needs of the affected population.


In response to the recent flooding in Northern Ghana, a multi-agency assessment mission has been completed. Oxfam will prepare appropriate proposals to assist the 300,000 people affected as part of an inter-agency approach.

Somalia / Somaliland

Significant numbers of Somali refugees have been displaced in to southern Ethiopia due to drought and insecurity in the South of the country. 700,000 people were facing food shortages as a result of poor rains during the Sorghum growing period, late and torrential rains that washed away standing crops, a general lack of food stocks and continued insecurity. The most vulnerable groups are agro-pastoralists, who are heavily dependent on farming, have few or no animals, and limited access to other income or food sources such as access to fishing or irrigated land. A joint nutritional assessment will be carried out by NGOs in the next few months to assess the level of need in the Bay and Bakool regions of southern Somalia.


Due to the civil war in the DRC, 20,000 refugees crossed into Northern Zambia early this year, fleeing fighting between government troops and rebels. 12,000 refugees, initially housed in temporary camps on the border were transferred to Mwange camp near Mporokoso for reasons of safety. As increasing numbers flooded in to the Northern and Lapula Provinces, Oxfam supported the water and sanitation provision for a new camp with a capacity of 30,000 at Kala and continued to contribute to the overall well being of DRC refugees throughout the region through provision of adequate water and sanitation facilities.

Oxfam have recently completed the management hand-over of the Mwange camp to the Zambian Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross.


Mozambique has been experiencing a series of cholera epidemics since August 1997. Oxfam has implemented a preventive programme by focusing on water sanitation and public health education in Cuamba, a district with a population of approximately 137,000 prone to outbreaks. This has involved assessing water supplies, training appropriate staff in implementing water chlorination programmes, and developing and assisting in the implementation of an appropriate public health education strategy.


The 1994 massacres and war in Rwanda provoked massive population movements, internally in Rwanda and from Rwanda to neighbouring countries. In total, about two million people fled the country and the number of internally displaced persons, many in camps, were estimated at about one million. Some 270,000 refugees flowed into Burundi, 580,000 in to Tanzania, and 1,200,000 in to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). The problems and the sacrifices resulting from the inflow of such a large number of refugees in such a short time have been enormous.

Oxfam's current work in Rwanda is focusing on establishing acceptable living conditions for the return of refugees to their homes or to resettlement sites. Oxfam is working in Cyeru and Ruhengeri camps in northern Rwanda to provide long-term water and sanitation needs for the people who have been forcibly relocated here. Much of the infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed and Oxfam has been working to restore water supply, sanitation facilities, and hygiene knowledge to acceptable levels by restoring water points, constructing latrines, and training local water and health committees and specialists in maintenance of the systems. Oxfam and the local government have accepted a proposal for the urgent distribution of seeds, the need for a nutrition survey in Cyeru, and the continued rehabilitation of water supplies and provision of non-food items.

The Nyabwishongwezi Water Treatment Plant has been constructed to provide potable water to newly re-settled returnees in the north-east of Rwanda.

In the Kibungo region of Rwanda food security has become a problem since the general food ration from the UN stopped in June 1997 leaving insufficient time and space for planting. The poor health status of an estimated 52,000 returning refugees is compounded by high levels of malaria and a poor health infrastructure. Oxfam have been planning and implementing sustainable community-based development programmes in the region, aimed at improving the living conditions for resettling rural populations.


In October 1999 the Burundian government began regrouping people in the name of personal safety, from villages around Bujumbura to regroupment sites around the region of Bujumbura Rurale. There are believed to be around 300,000 displaced people now in the region, and further sites continue to be discovered. On 12 October, nine people, including two UN International staff members were shot and killed in Rutana Province. It is not known who carried out these killings but this incident demonstrates the serious security situation that threatens NGO operations in Burundi. Violence caused by Tutsi and Hutu inter-ethnic tensions has now spread from Bujumbura to the camps.

Oxfam have taken the lead in negotiations of minimum standards of human rights monitoring access to the camps before aid can be dispensed. Oxfam have drawn up a programme for intervention, and staff are on stand-by to begin a relief response, but the Burundian government continues to fail to meet international NGO demands.

Oxfam has been working in Burundi for the last 18 months, facilitating talks involving church and community groups. In order to safeguard this delicate peace process Oxfam will be providing support through other agencies in the area.

Since the start of the rebellion in DRC approximately 8,000 returnees / refugees have crossed into Cibitoke province from Kivu, with up to 400 new arrivals per day. Oxfam is providing emergency water supplies for two camps to house these refugees, and has assisted UNHCR with site planning.

In Gitega Province, a supplementary feeding programme and distribution of seeds and tools has been followed by a food security project to address the longer term nutritional requirements in the region. A team has been trained to develop this programme to improve household and community food security and to strengthen people's capacity to survive short-term shocks to their livelihood systems.


Tanzania is currently home to roughly 450,000 refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are situated in large refugee camps along Tanzania's western border. Over the past five years Oxfam has been involved in establishing stable living conditions within these camps by providing supplies of clean water and sanitation as successive waves of refugees have arrived from neighbouring conflicts. The influx of refugees from Burundi in recent months has negated the number returning from past conflicts. Security in the camps is worsening with the deteriorating situation in Burundi, as the arms trade grows and attacks on the camps become more focused. There has been an unacceptable rise in the number of deaths in some of the camps attributed directly or non-directly to malaria and Oxfam is also responsible for vector control in the Greater Lukole refugee camp in western Tanzania and the Mbuba transit centre in Ngara district. In 1999 Oxfam has constructed communal latrines and expanded water facilities for new arrivals, and has established an improved vector control programme in the Lukole Camp.

Tanzania suffers from chronic food insecurity and Oxfam is currently researching and setting-up an early warning system in the Shinyanga and Ngorogoro areas. Early in 1999 Tanzania was hit hard by the failure of the short rains, and drought has continued to affect the harvest throughout the country. Oxfam worked with its team in Tanzania to assess the food situation of the short and medium term needs of the drought affected communities. There is little food presently available in Shinyanga, and prices are high. The Tanzanian Government will soon be launching a food aid appeal for 120 million tonnes of food and commercial inputs. Emergency food provided by the Tanzanian government to populations in the drought affected areas of Ngorogoro and Monduli Districts was also transported and distributed by the Oxfam team.

Julius Nyere, the former Tanzanian Prime Minister, died of leukaemia in mid-October 1999. He was key in developing and maintaining a peaceful and progressive social system in Tanzania and in upholding peace negotiations throughout the countries of the Great Lakes region. There are worries that Tanzania will suffer in the wake of his death, and that peace negotiations in Burundi may stall without a clear and respected steer.


One of Oxfam's key areas of involvement in Uganda has been the operation and management of the Impevi settlement, in Northern Uganda. The camp currently accommodates over 12,500 refugees, principally from south Sudan, and is different from other IDP camps in that it has a major element of self management of the population. Oxfam will shortly hand over management of the programme, and work is presently aimed at securing refugees' basic needs, and contributing to a sense of increased security, integration, and self management of the population within the framework of government policies and within the UNHCR self-sufficiency strategy.

Northern Uganda has been struck by drought. In the north east of the country, long-standing problems of cattle rustling among the pasturalist Karamijong tribes have worsened into more structured attacks due to the influence of commercial elements from Kenya.

Oxfam is aiming to minimise the risk to household food insecurity of internally displaced people (IDP's) and other conflict affected people in Lamwo county, Kitgum district, through training them in improved farming methods, re-introducing animal traction and providing and multipliying improved seeds to strengthen their productive capacity. A water and sanitation project for 55,000 people in this district is facilitating the drilling of 4 boreholes in camps, and finishing the construction of latrines in Kitgum town. As a result, the displaced will have access to an easily maintainable safe water provision and improved sanitation.


Drought and crop failure is currently affecting a vast area over the entire north of the country. The Nairobi team are currently implementing a drought relief programme which aims to ensure water sources are functioning and provide nutritional expertise. The objective of the water work is to create fast response water teams which can be sent out to repair boreholes within 24 hours. This will then mean that livestock owners do not have to move their cattle on, which will safeguard their health and ensure that undue pressure is not put on other boreholes. The extra nutritional capacity will enable the team to keep a close watch on the developments of the nutritional and food security situation in Wajir, Turkana, Moyale and Isiolo districts.


Sudan has known only ten years of peace in the last four decades as southern demands for political expression and economic development have gone unanswered by the dominant north. The war is being fought over a vast area and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement can hold large areas of the countryside at the same time as the government, now dominated by the National Islamic Front, controls important towns. Since mid-1998 under mounting international pressure, the government and the rebels agreed to a series of partial cease-fires covering areas of the south and west most seriously affected by famine. These have been renewed regularly to allow the flow of food aid to continue relatively unimpeded. However, the truce excludes many areas where fighting has traditionally taken place.

Today the country faces massive problems: a weak economy, a long-running civil war which has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and their livestock, drought, and insufficient food to meet the country's needs. Oxfam is working with the war displaced in northern Sudan in Kassala and Unity States by providing basic emergency needs such as clean water and shelter, sanitation and animal health support, and improving the livelihoods of the target community.

In Terekeka Province, southern Sudan Oxfam has been distributing food and evaluating the overall food security situation in the province. Oxfam is assisting 1,500 households who lost all their assets due to the tribal conflict between the Massalit and some Arab tribes in Geneina province during early 1999 by providing shelter, seeds and tools, and essential household items to enable target households to restart their normal way of living.

Recent results obtained by nutritional surveys indicate a critical rate of acute malnutrition in displaced camps in Ed Daein. An Oxfam programme has established three supplementary and one therapeutic feeding centres, supported a multi-agency emergency measles immunisation campaign and conducted comprehensive community health education over four months until the situation is more stable. Seeds are being distributed to a total population of 25,835 households in Rumbek county in order to stem the current hunger gap.

In Mundri, an Oxfam project helped to fill the crop deficit from the last harvest in groundnuts which failed due to heavy rains during the flowering period earlier this year. This should enable communities to recover pre-1998 famine levels of food security. An integrated public health programme in this district is providing primary health care to communities, including substantial numbers of returnees. The project is key to any response if an escalation of the wider war happens.

An on-going project is aimed at the provision of safe water and hygiene awareness raising among the famine and conflict affected population of Bahr el Ghazal. Oxfam are also meeting the continued need to improve animal health in the region.