|May 22, 2002
UN: Humanitarian situation "very serious"
The UN's Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain is to lead an
inter-agency needs assessment mission to Angola in early June as the United
Nations works towards an expanded role in the country's peace process.
Mountain's visit is to be followed by the arrival of Kenzo Oshima, UN
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Ibrahim Gambari, UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on Africa, to launch a joint
emergency humanitarian appeal with the government.
On Tuesday, May 21, Gambari told a briefing at UN Headquarters in New York
that the ceasefire signed on 4 April in Luanda between the Angolan
government and rebel UNITA movement was holding. But he warned that the
humanitarian situation was "very serious", particularly in the 38 quartering
areas where 55,000 UNITA troops and 300,000 of their family members are
supposed to be housed.
The government had underestimated the enormous challenges of providing food,
shelter and medicine for the ex-combatants and their family members, the UN
news wire quoted Gambari as saying. So far, 65,343 UNITA soldiers had
arrived at the quartering areas along with 163,819 family members. Another
8,800 more soldiers and 7,000 family members were still expected.
Contributing to the problem was the fact that the role of the UN in Phase I
of the peace process, while important, was "subordinate", the Special
Adviser said. He noted that it was essentially an observer in the
Furthermore, the UN did not have access to the quartering areas and did not
have a framework agreement spelling out the responsibilities to be shared
with the government in providing services to the quartering areas.
The United Nations, nonetheless, did have a contingency plan, Gambari said.
Mountain would visit from 8 to 14 June to assess needs. He added that the
Secretary-General was preparing a reply to a letter from President Jose
Eduardo Dos Santos, who had asked for technical and "management" assistance
and resources for the quartering areas. The Special Adviser also said that
Annan's forthcoming report to the Security Council would define a new
mandate for the United Nations in view of the changed circumstances.
Gambari noted that the current mandate of the UN Office in Angola was very
narrow - providing capacity-building, human rights training and mobilising
resources for humanitarian assistance. In Phase II of the ceasefire
agreement, at the end of the year, the United Nations would chair the Joint
Commission to examine implementation of of the outstanding issues under the
Lusaka Protocol that would involve new responsibilities.
Meanwhile, a meeting was held on Monday, May 20, in Luanda between the
United Nations and the "troika" of peace observer countries - the United
States, Russian Federation and Portugal - on how to respond to the dire
situation in the camps. They decided to meet with the Joint Military
Commission (JMC) overseeing the demobilisation process to share information,
Gambari said. They also agreed to form a "technical group" to assess the
needs and prepare concrete proposals to ensure success of the quartering
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and aid
agencies in Angola are extending relief operations into the family
quartering areas, and in other parts of the country now accessible as a
result of the ceasefire.
Relief workers who have been operating in the quartering camps, as well as
the JMC (made up of both government and UNITA military officers), have
described the humanitarian situation there in recent weeks as critical.
OCHA said in a report released on May 21 that "operations will be extended
in a pragmatic manner within current logistical and funding constraints ...
These operations [in family quartering areas] are extensions of ongoing
provincial programmes and are complementary to government programmes". (IRIN)