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Saturday, 20 July, 2002, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
Angola's nightmare hunger camps
We were with an Australian aid worker, and her face was becoming contorted, the impact of the vision before us starting to show.
"We have to lend them a car, otherwise they'll take the body out in a wheelbarrow.. a wheelbarrow," she blurted out, shaking slightly.
There was an edge of desperation in her voice.
He was moaning, and weaving from side to side, swaying his upper body and his head in a rocking motion.
She was 25. And her body was stretched just metres from us, covered with a cloth.
No food at all
We went next to a little clinic, the only one for miles - and in it were the starving and emaciated.
There were children who had been borne on their mothers' backs for miles to get here.
The mothers too were thin, unwell, unfed.
They had come from areas of Angola where there simply is no food.
I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to wake up in the morning, and know that all that day, there would be nothing.
You would pass through the early morning alright I suppose, but by mid-afternoon it would be different.
Then you would go to bed on an empty stomach and wake up the next day and do the same.
And so for weeks or longer.
Camps of hell
Angolans have been eating wild leaves, rats whatever they can get.
But it has not really helped. They are weak and exhausted.
There are two forms of starvation.
The swelling can be very painful. Fluid builds up in the limbs too.
Sometimes the pressure is too much, and the skin cracks and forms lesions.
Even more distressing to see is Mirasmus.
Here the body wastes away until the skin hangs off the bone, and the very shape of the person's skeleton becomes apparent.
In both cases infection and disease start to feed on the weakness.
Abscesses, pneumonia, measles, meningitis... they are all there in the starvation camps of Angola.
And they are camps of hell - places that should not exist except in our nightmares.
If there was one such camp in Europe we would end it, erase it, change it - make it go away, and quickly.
But it is in Africa, so the camps are there. And they will be for a while.
The worst camp we visited was in a town called Mavinga, in an extremely remote part of Angola.
This is a country of immense swathes of dry bush - of waterfalls, jungles, mountains, and a glistening coastline.
Angola has a small population and is given to gigantic plentiful harvests.
There would be such harvests this year, except for the war.
Mavinga, like most of the country, has been almost totally inaccessible to the outside world for three decades because of the war.
It was not always so, but nowadays Mavinga has nothing but one road, a short battered dirt airstrip, and a clinic. The rest is desolation.
Some food is being flown in - not enough for the adults, but for the children.
The whole area near the clinic was smoky, and crowded.
It smelt of cooking fires and of infection and disease.
Through this a little girl walked by, her hand held by an aid worker.
She walked strangely, awkwardly - her legs protruding from her dirty skirt like sticks.
Her teeth were big. She kept looking up and around in total confusion. This was Antonia.
Antonia was found nearby wandering in the bush alone.
No parents, no guardian, just alone.
She was half the weight she should be and would have starved to death had she not ended up here.
She sat down and stared at her feet, moving her head from side to side a little.
If you watched closely you could see the character of whoever she was before coming through, but it was hard.
Whatever she had seen - or whatever had happened to her had traumatised her, damaged her mind probably permanently.
Perhaps her parents died on the way here, perhaps she had seen terrible fighting, perhaps she was raped, perhaps all three, who knows?
She could speak a little Portuguese, the language of the former colonists, so she had been educated I suppose - amazing in a remote place like this.
Only a few words came out, and very quietly after coaxing.
An old man in the camp had once or twice taken it upon himself to attend to her, but he was nowhere to be seen for the many hours we were there.
He was probably fighting his own battles - his own illness - lying on the ground somewhere.
So all day and night, she was basically alone.
She is getting food from the aid workers, but no one puts her to bed at night.
No grown up tells her it is all going to be alright.
And it isn't. It is not going to be alright.
What will become of her? She will never get psychiatric help in a place like Mavinga.
Her body may recover, but what a torture to live.
I wish her well.
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