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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Mission impossible for UN in Kuito
Chikala, camp outside Kuito
Displaced people are heavily dependent on food aid
By Justin Pearce in Kuito

Seventy-year-old Abel Sangueve had an irate message for the World Food Programme officials who visited the Kambendua displaced people's camp where he lives, near the central Angolan town of Kuito.

"When we first came here there was enough food," he said. "But not any more."


The major problem is security - even if the organisations have the resources, they cannot reach out to people

Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed, Care
The WFP team had to explain that at the moment, it is simply impossible to get enough food into the town.

Mr Sangueve is one of 160,000 people that live in camps around Kuito, driven out of their farms and villages as war continues between government forces and Unita rebels.

These displaced people are heavily dependent on food that is flown in.

But on Friday, the WFP announced that it was suspending all its aid flights in Angola, after an attempted missile attack on a plane which was trying to get food to Kuito.

Under pressure

The town's food stocks are now expected to run out in less than a week.

MSF feeding centre, Kuito
Over 1,000 children have been admitted to therapeutic feeding centres
The cancellation of the flights is the latest blow to an operation which has been in trouble for some time.

Kuito airport's runway is badly potholed, slowing down the rate of aid deliveries. And recently, jet fuel - which has to be imported, despite Angola being one of Africa's major petroleum producers - has been in short supply.

Aid organisations have ruled out the possibility of trucking in food - for rebels regularly ambush transport convoys in the area.

Security

But even if there were enough food in Kuito, it would still be impossible to get it to all the people who need it.

Kuito
Oct 2000: 80,000 displaced people
May 2001: 160,000 displaced people
Jan 2001: 200 severely malnourished children
June 2001: 900 severely malnourished children
Source: WFP, MSF
The civil war is a daily reality here. Only last week a shell landed 10km (six miles) from Kuito, and Unita forces captured a village only 25km (15 miles) from the town.

"The major problem is security," says Ahmed Mohamed Ahmed, the regional director of Care - the organisation responsible for distributing WFP food supplies to displaced people.

"Even if the organisations have the resources, they cannot reach out to people."

Increased need

Ironically, improvements in the security situation can also increase the load on the agencies.


Recently, the Angolan Armed Forces gave security clearance for food distribution to Camacupa, a town some 80km north-east of Kuito. That has allowed over 7,000 more people to start receiving food - yet the amount of food coming into the province has stayed the same.

At the same time, newly displaced people continue to arrive both in Camacupa and in Kuito itself, bringing stories of how they were forced from their farms and villages during attacks by Unita.

Many of them are severely malnourished, and require emergency medical treatment in the therapeutic feeding centres run by humanitarian organisations.

It is the children who are the worst affected: the number of children reaching the therapeutic feeding centres is now even higher than it was during the heavy fighting of 1998.

Kuito

There is only one Angolan doctor in Kuito - in fact she is the only local doctor for the million people who live in Bie province.

When you ask Kuito's townsfolk how life is these days, the stoical response is usually ambivalent. They are glad that shells are no longer falling on them, but life remains hard. Food prices are high. Some vegetables are grown locally, but dairy products, cooking oil, sugar all have to be flown in.

Much of the town was shattered in 1993, when the main street was the front line in the battle between government and Unita forces. People still live in those buildings. There is no sanitation, and water has to be carried from a river outside the town.

The only buildings that have been repaired are those that belong to the aid agencies, whose four-wheel-drive vehicles also account for most of the traffic on the roads - as well as a rare source of employment for Angolan drivers. As well as bricking up the shattered walls, some of the agencies have added a new feature not envisaged by Kuito's original planners: an underground concrete bunker, reinforced against future possible attacks.

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See also:

23 Jul 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Angola's city of sorrow
16 Jun 01 | Africa
Angola aid flights suspended
08 Jun 01 | Africa
WFP plane hit in Angola
26 May 01 | Africa
Rebels free children in Angola
22 May 01 | Africa
Unita attack east of Luanda
31 May 01 | Business
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