June 27, 2002

MSF Report Confirms Food Malnutrition Fears

A report on conditions in the remote town of Chitete, in Angola's northern Huambo province, has provided yet more evidence that Angola is in the grip of a severe humanitarian crisis.

According to the survey presented by Medecins Sans Frontieres, the mortality rate among the 15.000 people in the settlement, which is also a quartering area for demobilising soldiers, is four times higher than normal. The leading cause of death is malnutrition and three-quarters of the people who are dying are children under five.

The survey showed that for the first six months of 2002, the overall mortality rate was twice the level that indicated an emergency, and the mortality rate for children under five was five times the normal rate. "Immediate nutritional assistance is needed," an MSF statement said.

This echoes a recent UNICEF warning that the mortality rate for children in Angola was among the highest in the world and that about 70.000 children need urgent supplementary feeding. The World Food Programme on Wednesday appealed for US $241 million to feed up to 1,5 million people in the country over the next 18 months.

The head of MSF Angola, Jean Luc Anglade, told IRIN that as Chitete was a quartering area it housed soldiers who had reported with their families for demobilisation under the 4 April ceasefire. However, the government was not getting enough food through. Earlier in June, the United Nations Office in Angola (UNOA) said the number of rebel UNITA soldiers and their families entering quartering areas to begin the demobilisation process had caught the government and aid agencies by surprise. The number of troops in the quartering areas had reached over 79.000 and the number of family members with them 230.000. "There is not enough food and it is not getting there on time," said Anglade, adding that the situation in Chitete was representative of other quartering areas. "This is mainly due to logistical difficulties or underpreparedness. Other organisations have tried to prepare and to respond but the food is not arriving, except for the little from the government. People might go back to the bush to find food which is disturbing. You can't force a soldier to stay where he can't find food."

He said the main difficulty MSF faced in treating malnutrition was that there wasn't adequate food to make sure people didn't have to return for treatment again. "If they come back because there is no food, we are working for nothing," he said. The people in Chiteta are currently being ferried to an MSF therapeutic feeding centre in nearby Bailundo for treatment. There they join about 700 other severely malnourished children that MSF is treating. Over recent weeks, WFP has started feeding an extra 120.000 desperately hungry people who were until recently completely cut off from aid due to the war. (IRIN)

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