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Huambo: an impending disaster?

By Anna Taylor SCF-UK

Update on the current situation

The last edition of Field Exchange included an account of discussions on how food aid should be targeted in the siege town of Huambo situated in the Plan Alto region of Angola1. The article illustrated that 6 months of discussions took place before consensus could be reached that there were no advantages to targeting food aid as the entire population experienced a very similar degree of food insecurity.
Between November 1999 and May 2000 full monthly rations were given four times in a general distribution (excluding only those living in the concrete city) in the areas covered by WFP. ICRC allocated more regular half rations in their areas of responsibility. In May the ration stopped following a WFP/FAO Crop assessment which concluded that the recent harvest would meet the peoples' food need for two months. ICRC continued however to distribute seed and food for seed protection.

In May 2000 malnutrition rates reached their lowest levels since the fighting resumed in December 1998 (see graph) but were still high (10% global, 4% severe) relative to baseline levels (global 4%). The reduced levels of malnutrition are likely to be a consequence of high quantities of relief food distributed in the preceding period and the maintenance of a low price of maize (in real terms). Low prices were probably due to the food aid and the increase in the amount of trade taking place between the city and its broader hinterland.

Future prospects - Food aid policy

In June 2000, WFP published a strategy paper2 for distribution of relief food in Angola. The strategy states "Now is an appropriate transition time for WFP to replace large scale free food distributions with a more targeted approach, based on strict registration criteria and self targeted safety nets."

The recommended beneficiary groups were as follows:

  1. Current WFP case load to continue to receive a free food ration until May 2001.
  2. From May 2001:

While the strategy paper clearly states that the targeting will not begin until May 2001, there are indications that these strategies are already being implemented. In Casseque 3, the only IDP camp in Huambo and which accommodates many of the most recently displaced the general ration was stopped, rations were targeted to specific vulnerable groups, and food for work implemented. It is unclear whether WFP are being forced to revert to targeting by reduced donor commitments and resulting scarcity of food aid resources or whether the strategy is based upon some other rationale.

Potential consequences for the emergency affected population

Huambo is a city with an estimated 250,000 people living in the biarros. In order to feed itself over the next four months (until February when the next harvest begins) the population will need approximately 17,000MT maize3. There are a limited number of sources of maize in Huambo:

  1. Maize grown within the city itself. An assessment conducted by Save the Children in August indicated that maize produced by households with access to land (and therefore not including any of the displaced) amounted to approximately 5% of their annual food needs.
  2. Maize brought into the city through trade. In recent months, security has allowed maize from the countryside to be traded in the city. This supply may however start to decline as the rains are about to begin and security often deteriorates in the wet season.
  3. Maize brought into the city by the humanitarian community. ICRC intend to continue to distribute food over the coming months. WFP however, whose food distribution has covered the greater part of the city in the past appear to be on the verge of changing over to a safety net targeted general ration as outlined above.

If 17,000MT maize does not come into the city from these sources over the next four months, the consequences for nutritional status are likely to be severe and cases of malnutrition are likely to increase dramatically4. An estimated 80% of households would not be able to meet food needs if there were a small increase in the price of maize because they rely almost entirely on purchasing their food. If the WFP strategy is implemented as outlined above then it is possible that a situation will be reached whereby the population has to wait to become malnourished or at clinical risk of malnutrition before they receive food assistance through the targeted supplementary feeding centres.

Emergency preparedness in nutrition programming

SCF are closely monitoring the following:

  1. Nutritional status. - through nutritional surveys.
  2. Admission rates in feeding centres.
  3. Readmission rates in feeding centres.
  4. Duration of stay and weight gain of registered children
  5. Proportion of admissions over five years of age


The prospects in the short term for the population of Huambo are bleak. Lack of donor commitment and inappropriate strategies risk placing the lives of many in jeopardy. The international community will be forced to respond when malnutrition rates reach extreme levels, but seem reluctant to act to prevent this occurring. The immediate restoration of the general food distribution appears to be the only practical way of supplying the city with adequate quantities of food in the time frame required.

Show footnotes

1Gostelow, L., Reflections on food and nutrition interventions in Huambo. Field exchange July 2000 Issue 10

2Report of the mission to review distribution strategies in Angola. Conclusions and Recommendations. June 2000.

3Based on needing an average of 0.5kg maize per day

4The best available estimate of the quantity of food required from the humanitarian community for the period October 2000 - March 2001 is that provided in 1999/ 2000. The relief food supplied in that period (9,000 -10,000 tons) was sufficient to hold prices roughly constant.

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Reference this page

Anna Taylor (). Huambo: an impending disaster?. Field Exchange 11, December 2000. p25.



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