Updated background information on the IDP situation in Angola

from Global IDP Project
Published on 08 Apr 2002
The Global IDP Database of the Norwegian Refugee Council has now updated its country profile on internal displacement in Angola.A summary is presented below. The Database and the country profile can be accessed at www.idpproject.org, or the complete profile can be sent to you by e-mail on request (Claudia.mcgoldrick@nrc.ch).

The sheer magnitude of the problem of internal displacement in Angola is numbing. The figures are staggering and the conditions that surround them nearly unimaginable. At the end of 2001, the UN put the total number of persons displaced since the beginning of the decades-long conflict at 4.1 million - a third of the country's 12 million inhabitants (UN November 2001, p. 10). Working estimates in 2001 cited a figure of over three million IDPs since 1998 (UN November 2001, p. 10; UN OCHA 31 August 2001, Population movements).

The only thing more alarming than the figures themselves is the context in which they exist. The statistics are disturbing:

Angola is the most heavily mined country in the world with an estimated eight to ten million landmines (UNICEF 2001, Country background);

Nearly half of the Angolan population is under-nourished (Marc Dubois September 2001);

Infant mortality is the second highest in the world with one in three children dead before the age of five (UN OCHA 8 February 2002)

Only 30% of the population has access to safe water (Oxfam September 2001)

Four-fifths of the population do not have access to essential drugs (Dubois September 2001)

Life expectancy is 44 years (Dubois September 2001)

It is in this extremely precarious environment that at least three million people - among them young families, unaccompanied children, and the elderly - are on the move.


Since the country's independence in 1975, Angolans have seen little peace. A protracted conflict between the Government of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) has ravaged the country for the better part of thirty years. The worst of the fighting in Angola broke out in 1992 following the electoral victory of the government ruling party, MPLA, and its subsequent rejection by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). From 1992 to 1994, between 1.3 and 2 million persons were forced to flee their homes (Deng 10 November 2000, sect. II). By 1994, it was hoped that the Lusaka Peace Protocol might end the violence, but this did not prove to be the case. The demobilization of UNITA troops envisaged by the peace process was never completed and sporadic fighting continued throughout the country (USCR 1998). All-out war resumed by the end of 1998.

In 2000, the government succeeded in regaining control of several traditional UNITA strongholds, but these military feats failed to combat the chronic insecurity plaguing the country. In response to the strengthening government offensive, UNITA resorted more readily to guerrilla tactics in order to meet its military aims. As a result, rapid infiltration attacks as well as hit-and-run ambushes became more commonplace during 2000 and early 2001 (UN OCHA 30 April 2001; UN November 2000).

By mid-2001, UNITA seemed to have moved away from guerrilla tactics in favour of terrorist warfare, becoming increasingly involved in kidnappings and the deliberate targeting of civilians. One stark example was the UNITA attack,on 10 August 2001, on a civilian train in Cuanza Norte province resulting in the death of over 400 persons. Witnesses report that the train was derailed by an anti-tank mine, and that passengers attempting to escape the accident were killed by UNITA soldiers laying in wait (Action for Southern Africa 5 September 2001, 5 October 2001).

The death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi at the hands of government troops in February 2002 added new impetus to the peace process. (IRIN 24 & 28 February 2002). After a shaky start - with fighting ongoing as peace talks between the two sides got underway in the eastern Moxico province in March - the Angolan government and UNITA did finally sign a ceasefire agreement in April (UN News Service 1 April 2002). At the same time, humanitarian organizations warned that even in the event of lasting peace, the humanitarian challenges facing the war-ravaged country are enormous (IRIN 1 April 2002) .


Given the length and pervasiveness of the conflict in Angola, there has been a near-continuous mass movement of people in the county for years (Oxfam September 2001). OCHA reports that between 1998 and 2001, approximately 3.59 million people were internally displaced. Of this number, only 1.34 million have been confirmed by humanitarian partners and are receiving assistance (UN OCHA, 31 January 2002). Approximately 320,000 IDPs continue to live in camps and sub-standard transit centres (UN OCHA 8 February 2002).

Provinces with the largest concentrations of IDPs include Bié, Huila, Malanje and Huambo - with the most significant displacements occuring in Bié province, as a result of military operations (UN OCHA 31 January 2002). At the beginning of 2002, UN OCHA reported that the total number of displaced persons in Bié province had increased to over 181,000, with a further deterioration in the humanitarian situation there (UN OCHA 24 January 2002).

Conditions of displacement

The traditional movement of displaced populations has been from rural areas to state-controlled provincial capitals. In the absence of sustained and effective government services, resident populations - already impoverished by the effects of the war - have been forced to shoulder the burden caused by the massive levels of displacement (UN November 2001).

During flight, communities and families are often separated from each other. Movements of IDPs in Bié Province have revealed that many women are left to flee on their own with their children since their husbands are fighting for government or UNITA forces (WFP 12 July 2001, IRIN 23 November 2001). More than 100,000 children are estimated to be separated from their birth families throughout the country (UN OCHA 7 March 2002). As has been the case throughout the conflict in Angola, a significant number of IDPs are persons who have been forced to flee several times during the course of the conflict (Andrade 2001, MSF 2 July 2001).

Though IDPs have found some protection in provincial capitals, persons in all areas have been vulnerable to attack, rape, kidnapping and forced conscription by UNITA and government forces (UN OCHA 22 May 2001; CHR 25 January 2001). With terrorist attacks by UNITA in 2001,as well as "cleansing" exercises by the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) designed to "starve out" UNITA rebels, it has been increasingly difficult to guarantee the security of civilians nearly anywhere in the country (Action for Southern Africa 5 October 2001; Mail and Guardian 20 August 2001). Women and children are naturally the most vulnerable populations. Women have been subject to sexual harassment and forced into marriage and prostitution; children - of which one million are internally displaced - have been forcibly recruited and victim of kidnappings and sexual assault (UNICEF 2001, Country background; IRIN-SA 14 June 2001; CHR 25 January 2001; NRC September 2000).

Towards the end of 2001, the UN reported that tens of thousands of newly displaced persons in interior regions were thought to be on the brink of starvation. An estimated 500,000 people in need were reportedly living in areas inaccessible to international agencies, with more than 200,000 believed to be in acute distress (UN November 2001). Acute malnutrition was reported in at least nine locations with high concentrations of IDPs (UN OCHA 7 March 2002). Vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as a sharp increase in HIV/AIDs were also contributing to the very high morbidity and mortality rates among IDPs in these locations. Some of the worst living conditions in the country were reported to be in the 22 transit centres and warehouses in seven provinces that remain open., accommodating some 17,500 IDPs (UN OCHA 8 February 2002). Agencies estimate that 90 percent of displaced communities use contaminated water sources, resulting in potentially fatal waterborne diseases (UN November 2001).

Return and resettlement

Following the adoption of the Norms for the Resettlement of Displaced Persons by the Government of Angola in October 2000, humanitarian agencies hoped that resettlement to safe areas would continue and even accelerate in 2001. Following the publication of the Norms, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Reintegration (MINARS) formed a technical working group to develop a set of legally binding operating procedures for the implementation of the Norms at the provincial level (UN OCHA 28 February 2001). However, an intensification of fighting in the central highlands in 2001 constrained return and resettlement movements, and compliance with the Norms was uneven at best (UN OCHA 22 May 2001). By the end of 2001, approximately 498,500 IDPs had been resettled in temporary areas over the previous three years. Compliance with the Norms was reported to have increased to nearly 70 percent (UN OCHA 31 December 2001, 8 February 2002). However, the continuous new displacement meant that instead of sub-standard transit centres and warehouses being closed by the end of 2001 as planned, four new centres opened in Huambo in January 2002.


Throughout 2001, widespread insecurity, airstrips in poor condition and dangerous roads continued to hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid to war-affected populations. The situation was further exacerbated by the deliberate targeting of aid organisations. In May 2001, sixteen World Vision staff members went missing following the UNITA attack of Golongo Alto in Kwanza Norte province (WV 21 May 2001). In June, two WFP food aid aircraft came under missile-fire attack near Kuito (WFP 15 June 2001). As a result, 60% of humanitarian relief had to be transported by air (UN OCHA 22 May 2001). However, by the time the Angolan government and UNITA signed the ceasefire agreement in April 2002, WFP reported that due to stronger army escorts and increasing prospects for peace, about 60 percent of humanitarian aid was being delivered by road and 40 percent by air - quite a dramatic change in a short space of time (IRIN 3 April 2002).

National and international response

While the Government of Angola provides some minimal assistance to displaced populations, observers consider its efforts far below what they should be, its attitude as one of "neglect" (CHR 25 January 2001, para. 35). At the end of 2000, several humanitarian NGOs released reports pointing the finger at the Government of Angola, arguing that it had the resources to look after its people if only it cared to do so (The Economist 11 January 2001). In a rare briefing of the UN Security Council in March 2002, NGOs including MSF and Human Rights Watch again criticized the government (as well as UNITA) for failing to fulfil its responsibilities to populations under its control (MSF; HRW 5 March 2002). Indeed, the Government of Angola would seem to be in a much better position to aid its citizens than most other African countries. The country is extremely rich in resources: it is the second largest sub-Saharan oil producer and the fourth largest producer of diamonds in the world. However, revenues from these industries would appear to benefit only a very select few (Oxfam September 2001).

The UN appealed for US$ 232,768,6669 for emergency programmes and humanitarian sectors in 2002 (UN November 2001). However, by April 2002, still only 50 percent of the 2001 CAP was funded. The UN linked the slow response to humanitarian appeals for Angola to the expectation by some donors that the Government of Angola would allocate additional resources from oil revenues to social sectors (UN OCHA 22 May 2001).

As of 2001, the humanitarian operation in Angola comprised 10 UN agencies, 100 international NGOS and more than 340 national NGOs. Numerous government ministries and departments were also involved in humanitarian assistance. Overall coordination of the humanitarian operation continues to be by the government Ministry of Social Affairs and Reintegration (MINARS) and by UN OCHA (UN November 2001).

Updated April 2002

The country profile includes complete reference to the sources and documents used.