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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Angolan concern ahead of eclipse
eclipse in 1994
Looking at the eclipse can permanently damage eyesight
By Justin Pearce in Luanda

The authorities in Angola are preparing for a total eclipse of the sun later this week, handing out sunglasses and trying to warn people not to damage their eyes by looking at the sun during the eclipse.

But the country's crumbling infrastructure - not to mention the civil war - are huge obstacles in the way of getting the message across.

Luanda poster
Safety posters are up in Luanda
The total eclipse on 21 June will sweep across the country in a band 200km wide, starting just south of Luanda. The capital itself, and most of the remainder of the country, will experience a partial eclipse.

In a country where many people are outside the reach of even the most basic health and educational facilities, the authorities face a huge challenge in warning people that looking at the sun during the eclipse can cause permanent eye damage.

Eyewear

Six million pairs of special protective sunglasses have been imported, of which two million are meant to be given out free to the most needy people.

But in the provinces some of these supposedly free glasses are changing hands for $2 a time.

While some remain unaware of the eclipse, others - particularly homeless children and people in the rural areas - fear that blindness or other drastic consequences are inevitable.

Hundreds of advisors are fanning out over the country to try and reach those people who do not have access to newspapers or radio.

And a senior eye specialist at the ministry of health announced last week that arrangements were being made to provide emergency help to those who might suffer eye damage during the eclipse.

Yet it remains to be seen whether the plans will be enough to overcome the huge difficulties in communications in Angola - most of them the result of the civil war.

Provinces

In Cunene Province, information about the eclipse has been late in arriving because the regional airport is currently out of commission.

The authorities in the town of Cubal, in Benguela Province, also blamed transport problems for the non-arrival of educational materials.

That was hardly surprising, since Cubal has been cut off by military activity.

Only recently, the army announced that it had captured a nearby Unita rebel base, opening up the road once again.

So Cubal may still get its eclipse education programme if the authorities move fast enough.

But Chila, another village in the same province, is unlikely to be so lucky. A local official admits that Chila is still in the hands of rebel forces.

The official issued a statement underlining the importance of "tolerance, harmony and national reconciliation" when it came to observing natural phenomena.

But it only served to underline the huge obstacles faced in getting across the message about the eclipse.

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24 Aug 99 | Total Eclipse
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