From: ICRC Geneva - SN 00/010
In recent months, the Angolan armed forces have claimed victories over the forces of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Government troops have reportedly seized UNITA strongholds, such as Andulo, Bailundo and the former UNITA base in Jamba. For its part, UNITA declares that it has been tactically retreating in order to regroup its forces. Thus, Angola still remains a long way from the implementation of the 1994 Lusaka peace protocols. There are no military or political indications of an imminent end to the country's 26 year civil war.
Despite the ground gained by the Angolan armed forces over the forces of UNITA, these gains have not mitigated the suffering of the civilian population for whom displacement, loss of livelihood and insecurity have become a way of life. It is still necessary to maintain the general food security and agricultural production for thousands of vulnerable displaced and resident populations in the Planalto region. Likewise, there is still need to ensure that displaced people living in the outlying districts of the main towns in the region have access to adequate medical care. Dialogue has to be maintained with all parties concerned in order to gain access to victims in all regions and extend humanitarian aid based on the evolvement of the security situation.
In his address to the UN Security Council on 18 January, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that some two million persons were presently displaced in Angola. It should be noted that people internally displaced by armed conflict are protected by international humanitarian law. The ICRC has a mandate, entrusted to it by the international community, to promote compliance with international humanitarian law and help victims of war and internal violence. These victims include internally displaced persons. Help may include protection activities, such as visiting persons arrested in relation with the renewed conflict and restoring contact between family members separated by armed conflict, conducting health activities and efforts to bring about economic security (agricultural rehabilitation, nutritional assistance and shelter).
In view of the steadily deteriorating humanitarian situation in Angola, the ICRC decided in April 1999 to step up its assistance to the displaced and resident populations in the Planalto region. To prepare for the implementation of this major economic security programme, the ICRC conducted extensive discussions with other humanitarian agencies, particularly WFP and MSF, touching on needs assessments, target areas and populations and the possibility of establishing well coordinated but separate supply lines. Since summer 1999, the ICRC has:
- enhanced the food and economic self-sufficiency of the resident and displaced populations living in the Planalto region (mainly Huambo), and with access to cultivable land, by supplying them with maize, bean, sorghum and groundnut seeds, vegetable kits, hoes and fertilizers for the nacas and lavras planting seasons (May and September respectively) ; it has so far reached more than 55,000 (225,000 people) of the 67,000 (335,000 people) families it planned to assist;
- by way of complementary food, provided monthly half food rations (6 kg maize grits, 2 kg beans, 1 l oil and 150 g salt per person, or 1,200 kcal/person/day,) to these same vulnerable target groups mainly in the Huambo region to meet any shortfalls and offer food protection between the two harvests so that the seeds they are provided with are not traded for food;
- provided material assistance in the form of agricultural inputs, buckets, soap, plastic sheeting, blankets, jerrycans and kitchen utensils to some 70,000 resident and displaced populations in Huambo and Kuito; in accordance with the distribution of responsibilities previously agreed upon among the humanitarian agencies active on the Planalto, nutritional assistance in Kuito was carried out by WFP and medical care by MSF;
- launched the production of 400,000 saplings for people living in the Huambo and Kuito areas in order to replace the fruit trees which have been felled, provide a renewable source of energy, reduce the current damage to the existing forest cover and protect the environment;
- closely monitored food and seed distributions for any possible violations (pillaging, intimidation and other violence), by the armed forces and other bearers of weapons, against resident and displaced populations; reminded the concerned authorities of their responsibilities towards the civilian population in such circumstances;
- carried out maintenance to ICRC-installed water-distribution systems in the Planalto region to provide sufficient clean water for vulnerable people in the region;
- improved hygiene and sanitation conditions in new sites for the displaced without basic facilities and infrastructure; in the Kuito area for instance, improved water facilities for some 53,000 people.
Field reports mainly from Huambo and Kuito continue to confirm the persistence of insecurity and the consequent serious constraint to the delivery of humanitarian aid, especially outside major urban centres. Security concerns involve the presence of mines, proximity to front lines and the risk of ambushes on the roads, even between relatively secure areas. An increase in mine accidents among the civilian population in the rural areas has been recorded. In October, for instance, an ICRC lorry detonated an anti-tank mine near Huambo. Although no one was injured in the incident, it underscores the reality of the risk. In addition, the security situation at distribution sites remains a matter of concern. In late November, an ICRC delegation employee was wounded by a stray bullet during aid distributions in Caala. Moreover, access to the territories regained by the armed forces is not yet a distinct possibility precisely because of security constraints. Road transport being severely curtailed by, inter alia, the conflict, ambushes and land mines, the ICRC is compelled to continue transporting everything by air, which is cumbersome and prohibitive by its sheer costliness. To ease the way for its humanitarian operations, the ICRC has deployed its personnel (45 expatriates and some 350 locally hired staff) in various locations in the country.
In November and December 1999, the ICRC conducted surveys in the Planalto region to determine the impact of its economic security programmes. The results of the evaluation were as follows:
- Agricultural rehabilitation
The impact of 1999 distributions of seeds, tools and fertilizer is now being evaluated. The seeds distributed have already been sown. First indications are that the yields of the nacas harvest (January - February 2000) are good and, provided climatic conditions remain normal, the yield of the lavras harvest (April -May 2000) should also have a positive impact on food availability on the Planalto. Tree seeds were planted in nurseries. The saplings are growing well the and first batch is ready for planting in the fields.
- Nutritional assistance
A combination of techniques were used to assess the impact of food distributions: semi-structured interviews, direct observation, interviews with key informants, nutritional anthropometry and a secondary data review. Surveys were conducted in districts considered by both local and expatriate personnel involved in relief activities to be worse hit than others, and also in districts that were much better off. The assessments were conducted in and around Huambo city and Caala. The findings of the surveys may be summed up as follows:
The ICRC assistance programme was implemented on the outskirts of Huambo city for people living in rural districts. The distribution of food was started at the same time as that of agricultural inputs. Nutritional evaluations now indicate that moderate malnutrition has decreased by some 10% in recent months, and severe malnutrition by some 20%. Approximately 45% of the population can now be said to have attained an acceptable nutritional status, which is a vast improvement from a few months ago. The food situation in and around Huambo province has thus stabilized or even improved thanks to food distributions by the ICRC (in barrios) and WFP (in Huambo town). Likewise, looting has decreased markedly since the end of last year.
Whereas the focus of ICRC assistance was on people living in rural Huambo, the displaced population of Caala also received food assistance. Displaced people in Caala were, in fact among the first beneficiaries of food assistance from the ICRC in 1999. The surveys now indicate that, as a result of the conflict, the food situation of the resident population of Caala is as bad as, or even more precarious than that of the internally displaced. Of the people assessed, 25% in Caala, particularly children, showed signs of severe malnutrition. Access to food, for both the resident and displaced population was a serious problem, starvation and death being a reality. The fragile situation is attributable to the combination of extensive looting, scarcity of food and the population's low purchasing power.
The ICRC also tried to bring assistance to civilians in areas which have became newly accessible. Often, however, this was made difficult by insecurity. Such was the case in the town of Chipipa where the population's nutritional status was found to be worrying and where the ICRC is identifying a way to provide ad hoc assistance.
Protection and assistance
In 1999 the ICRC decided to conduct assistance and protection activities concurrently. General looting, be it by armed groups or some of the displaced people, in the midst of the starvation so far noted was disconcerting. To alleviate the problem, the ICRC has increased its physical presence in the field. It has often reminded the authorities concerned of their responsibilities towards the civilian population. Such interventions have been well received by the authorities, and their impact has on the whole been effective. However, much of the looting takes place in areas which are beyond the reach of the ICRC for security reasons.
ICRC economic security response until April
Despite improvements in the nutritional situation in many areas on the Planalto, the lean period will continue until the end of April 2000. The main harvest (April - May) could make a marked difference, provided climatic conditions remain fairly normal and the looting of crops decreases considerably. With this in mind, the ICRC has adopted the following plan of action until the end of April 2000:
- continue to provide half food rations to 55,000 families /225,000 vulnerable people in villages on the outskirts of Huambo city; however, the number of beneficiaries is rising steadily;
- continue to provide internally displaced populations in Caala with half food rations, but also start giving similar assistance to the resident population;
- assist displaced and /or resident populations in areas which become newly accessible by providing them with half food rations and material assistance;
- continue to closely monitor food distributions for possible violations (pillaging, intimidation and other forms of violence by armed forces and other bearers of weapons) against civilian populations and remind the relevant authorities of their obligations towards the civilian population in such circumstances;
- continue to improve hygiene and sanitation conditions in new sites for the displaced which lack basic facilities and infrastructure;
- make an active contribution to the management of health centres in newly accessible areas of the Huambo province and camps for the internally displaced in Kuito.
Other ICRC activities
- continue to provide a Red Cross message network to make up for gaps in the postal service and ease contact between Angolan families separated throughout Angola and abroad; reunite unaccompanied children with their families;
- enhance the protection of civilians from the dangers posed by military operations.
People deprived of their freedom
- continue discussions with all parties concerned in order to grant the ICRC access to persons newly arrested in connection with the conflict and ensure that the treatment and conditions of detainees held by both parties comply with humanitarian principles.
Wounded and sick
- in order to assist surgical patients, provide regular medical supplies to the surgical ward at Huambo Hospital (currently treating 300-400 patients per month) and help ensure that it can adequately cater for all surgical cases; train and support surgical staff; ensure that the hospital offers adequate hygiene conditions and a supply of clean water; provide food for war-wounded patients;
- in order to assist amputees, ensure that they have easy access to the three prosthetic centres supported by the ICRC, that they are properly fitted with prostheses, rehabilitated and supported and that their progress is closely monitored; provide for professional and effective management of prosthetic centres; continue the manufacture of components and the supply of relevant material to other organizations in the field; ensure that seven prosthetic centres throughout the country receive components for the production of 4,000 prostheses per year.
Cooperation with National Societies
- as the lead agency in Angola, continue to organize information and coordination meetings regularly with the Angolan Red Cross, the International Federation and participating National Societies.
In addition to the foregoing, the ICRC will continue its dissemination activities with the authorities, armed forces and other bearers of weapons in order to prevent or reduce the suffering of the people affected by armed violence.
For further information, please contact the External Resources Division.