March 4, 2003

Landmines, rains cut UN access to thousands of Angolans in critical need of aid

Landmines, rains cut UN access to thousands of Angolans in critical need of aid

Some 314,000 people are in critical need of assistance as a combination of seasonal rains, dilapidated infrastructure and landmine infestation have cut off humanitarian access in Angola, where the United Nations runs one of the largest relief operations in the world.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Angola reported on March 4 that humanitarian workers are unable to reach 236,000 people who had been receiving assistance at the end of 2002. In addition, an estimated 78,000 people who have been long inaccessible are now in dire need of aid.

Efforts to reach these vulnerable populations in at least 25 locations have been impeded by landmine accidents along roads used by humanitarian partners and commercial vehicles. Since January, at least seven anti-tank and anti-personal mine accidents have been reported along access routes. Operations in 12 locations were resumed by resorting to armoured vehicles and airdrops.

The humanitarian crisis in Angola remains one of the worst in the world despite the ending of the country's 30-year conflict last April. The prolonged war displaced 3.5 million people, about one quarter of the country's population, according to government figures. More than 1.5 million of those displaced internally and 91,000 refugees have since returned to shattered homes where basic services are not yet in place.

The end of the war brought improved access and increased the caseload for life-saving assistance from two to three million people, but that progress in now in jeopardy. OCHA warned that unless urgent steps are taken to stabilize at-risk populations and support return movements, the humanitarian crisis may threaten future recovery and reconstruction. (United Nations, New York)

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