May 23, 2003

Steady improvement in humanitarian conditions

The humanitarian situation in Angola improved steadily during the first quarter of 2003, although emergency pockets remained in the interior, particularly in areas where mine infestation, poor road conditions and broken bridges limited access, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in an overview released this week.

By the end of the first three months of 2003, at least 308,700 people in 24 areas remained in critical need, including 190,900 people isolated as a result of poor road conditions and mine infestation, and 117,800 living in areas not yet accessed by humanitarian agencies.

In addition, acute levels of malnutrition were present in at least 14 areas, including 13 return sites where populations had been unable to establish food security. Conditions were also precarious in many of the transit centres and tented camps where former UNITA combatants and their families were being accommodated en route to their areas of destination, OCHA said.

According to government figures, approximately 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) had returned to areas of origin by the end of March, primarily in the provinces of Bié (230,640), Huambo (439,292), Huíla (107,613), Kuanza Sul (303,426) and Malanje (131,937). Although return movements slowed significantly during the first quarter of 2003 as a result of seasonal rains, thousands of IDPs returned spontaneously to areas of origin, particularly in the provinces of Bié, Cunene, Huíla, Kuanza Norte, Lunda Sul and Malanje.

OCHA said only 220,000 IDPs had relocated under an organised plan. An estimated 70 percent of IDPs returned without any form of assistance from local authorities or humanitarian organisations to areas lacking basic services. "A large majority of these populations are at risk of food insecurity due to lack of agricultural inputs and are vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases due to the absence of basic social services," the quarterly report warned.

The government announced that approximately 130,000 Angolan refugees had spontaneously returned from neighbouring countries since January. Of this number, more than 97,000 had been verified by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in Kuando Kubango, Moxico, Uíge and Zaire Provinces.

Although the pace of return decreased during the rainy season, 9,631 refugees returning from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia were registered in the first three months of the year. "In several cases, refugees are entering the country in areas that are not accessible to humanitarian agencies, and where minimum conditions are not in place," the report said.

According to government figures, approximately 49,100 ex-combatants and family members had left the gathering areas by the end of the year. During January 2003, several provincial governments indicated they were planning to close the areas after the rainy season. In many provinces, however, relocations were delayed due to lack of transport resources.

OCHA noted that in February, after additional resources were mobilised, the pace of relocation activities increased. The authorities reported at the end of March that 25 gathering areas had been officially closed, and confirmed that more than 241,000 people had left the gathering areas, including 56,000 ex-combatants and 185,000 family members. The most significant return movements of demobilised soldiers occurred in the provinces of Benguela, Bié, Huambo, Huíla and Kuanza Sul.

In an effort to facilitate the return and resettlement process, new transit centres were established in provincial and municipal centres for populations en route to their areas of destination. In some areas, populations were forced to find shelter in old warehouses and abandoned buildings or in tented camps, often with limited access to appropriate water and sanitation facilities.

At the end of the first quarter, an estimated 30,000 demobilised soldiers and family members remained in approximately 45 transit areas. Less than 20 percent of this population had access to adequate shelter, water and sanitation. The most serious conditions were registered in the provinces of Bié, Huambo and Kuando Kubango, the report said. (IRIN)

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