Menu ENN Search

Protecting production in Africa’s forgotten war

By Anthony Robbins, CARE International UK

Toby Peters Angola 95

Still bearing the brunt of a 30-year civil war, millions of Angolans are facing severe food and fuel shortages, artillery attacks on many of the main cities, and the terror of being caught between two warring forces.

There are now more than one million internally displaced people in Angola, two-thirds of who are women and children, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. Hundreds of thousands of Angolans face severe malnutrition, disease and death, and the intensifying civil war shows no prospects for any real peace process to begin.

Donor activity has been so low that Kofi Annan himself appealed to the international donor community in June to "urgently support humanitarian activities in Angola to avoid a massive human tragedy."

But donor response - from across the globe - remains inadequate, partially because of the hopelessness of the Angolan situation, but also because the world's attention these past few months has been fixed on the Balkan crisis.

Though the Angolan government sells oil to foreign companies it spends much of this money was spent on arms and remains heavily in debt. So health and education go by the board. Soldiers on both sides live off the land and the people: forcing people to give food, stealing crops, hijacking vehicles. Neither side will back down. All roads are unsafe, with ambushes common: in two separate attacks, humanitarian aid workers in well-identified vehicles were brutally slain.

Most of the countryside is under UNITA control, with the government holding the besieged cities, flooded with more than a million people who have fled unsafe rural areas. UNITA continues to inflict damaging attacks on government forces. Food, fuels and just about everything else are scarce in the provincial cities, since they can be supplied only by air. High prices put food and other commodities out of reach for most ordinary Angolans. In UNITA held areas where agriculture and trading have come to an abrupt halt, virtually nothing is available aside from subsistence farming products. Most of the harvest is taken by the UNITA troops. People are kept inside UNITA areas by terror force and, of course, land mines. Some people who have fled the UNITA onslaught have come out wearing clothes made of tree bark.

CARE International has had to re-work its longerterm development projects to provide emergency assistance to those in immediate need. It continues its health, agriculture and humanitarian mine action projects, mostly in Kuito, the provincial capital of Bié Province in Angola's Central Planalto region. But the situation is so bad that our teams are restricted to working within about ten kilometres of Kuito town. Currently over 72,000 displaced people are crowded into Kuito town, with hundreds more arriving every day. To reduce the pressure on the town, CARE International is currently working with local agencies to designate 'safe zones' within a 10km radius of Kuito town to move people into temporary accommodation.

Using supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP) CARE fed about 50,000 internally displaced people in May. During June and July we were only able to feed children, the sick and the vulnerable from among those displaced. In August we fed 72,000 using partial WFP rations - but even the full WFP ration meets only 60 percent of people's dietary needs and currently there are no supplies of two essential foods - lentils and oil. World Food Programme food stocks and funds for its transport are not adequate to meet needs in Kuito, nor in any other part of Angola.

Focus on Landmines

It is impossible to estimate the number of mines in Angola. Even conservative guesses put it at somewhere around the 20 million mark. It remains one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world. These hidden killers are a legacy of a 30-year civil war. More mines are planted every day by both sides of the conflict and continue to kill and maim ordinary Angolans every day. Already some 70,000 Angolans are believed to have lost limbs as a result of landmine explosions but the threat of death or serious injury becomes even greater as a growing number of displaced people risk wandering into unmarked minefields in unknown territory. Women and children are in constant risk of death or injury due to landmines whilst foraging for food and firewood on the outskirts of the town. Lack of food is forcing people - often women - to venture further out of the city limits in the search for wild roots, leaves, small animals and fuelwood which they need to sell in order to buy household essentials.

CARE International would never have become involved in landmines clearance and awareness work had mines not been cited as the main obstacle to development. Their presence has prevented rural refugees from returning home and beginning their work on their farms once again.

The focus of our landmines work remains on freeing up land to return it to community use. Removing or destroying every known mine is simply too great a task for CARE's teams, so sites where landmines might be planted are surveyed, mapped and, where mines and explosives ordnance are found, marked clearly. This way people know where it's safe to farm, graze cattle and fetch water.

This year alone our teams have trained almost 5,000 people in mine awareness, destroyed or marked over 100 mines or unexploded ordnance, and assessed four camp sites and surrounding agricultural land for temporary but safe resettlement of internally displaced people.

As an integral part of this programme, agriculture activities have been initiated for up to 15,000 displaced farm families. Work is under way with the government of Angola in order to allocate quality arable land on the outskirts of Kuito. To boost this programme CARE has distributed seeds and hand tools, and provided technical assistance to help improve harvests.

Nearly all of the above activities face funding constraints due to lack of donor interest, especially the CARE-Angola Humanitarian Mine Action Project.

The project is a successful model for the integration of demining and mines awareness with health and agriculture programmes; yet the future funding of this groundbreaking work remains uncertain. The laying of new mines by both sides in the civil war, which automatically eliminates some potential donors, explains only part of this.

For more information contact: Anthony Robbins, CARE International UK,8-14 Southampton Street, London WC2E 7HA, England. e-mail:

More like this

FEX: Disparate responses to need in Southern Africa: a WFP perspective

by Judith Lewis, Coordinator United Nations Regional Inter-Agency Coordination and Support Office in Southern Africa (RIACSO) WFP Regional Director for East & Southern...

FEX: Recurrent pellagra in Angola

Summary of report* Since March 1999, successive waves of people have arrived in the town of Kuito, Angola, displaced by fighting in their native Bie province. As a result,...

FEX: Niacin deficiency and pellagra in Angola

Summary of published research 1 Signs of pellagra observed during survey A recent study initiated by the World Food Programme (WFP), in conjunction with the government of...

FEX: A pellagra epidemic in Kuito, Angola

By Sophie Baquet and Michelle van Herp Sophie Baquet is the headquarter nutritionist in MSF Belgium and Michel van Herp, Headquarters epidemiologist in MSF Belgium. This...

FEX: Mortality Amongst Displaced UNITA Members in Angola

Summary of published paper1 Between April and August 2002 in Angola, as part of the post-ceasefire demobilisation, about 81,000 former members of União Nacional para a...

FEX: Reconstruction in Bosnia: Implications for Food Security and the Future of Food Aid

The authors of this article are Fiona Watson and Aida Filipovitch. Both authors were nutrition Consultants working in B&H for WHO between 1993-6. This article describes the...

FEX: Compliance problems with vitamin pill distributions

Unpublished report A pellagra outbreak hit war affected Kuito town, the capital of Bie Province in Angola in the second half of 1999 (see article in this issue of Field...

FEX: Potential of Using QBmix to Prevent Micronutrient Deficiencies in Emergencies

By Evelyn Depoortere, Epicentre Evelyn Depoortere is currently a medical epidemiologist for Epicentre. Previously she worked on several MSF missions, including Southern Sudan...

FEX: Conflict: a cause and effect of hunger

Summary of draft review1 The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is currently working on a review of what is known about the linkages between hunger. Some of...

FEX: Angola Agricultural Programmes

An ICRC Evaluation The ICRC has been operating agricultural programmes of various types in Angola since the 1980s. In the earliest phases, the programme distributed food aid,...

FEX: Community participation in targeting in South Sudan

Summary of research1 Women collect bags between air drops near the town of Habilla, West Dafur A recent study, carried out by the Feinstein International Centre and...

FEX: From emergency food aid to sustainable food security: 10 years of agricultural recovery in Afghanistan

By François Grunewald François Grunewald is an agricultural engineer specialising in the rural economy. He has worked in the field of crisis and post crisis operations since...

FEX: Disparate responses to need in Southern Africa

By Gaëlle Fedida Blanket food distribution in Bunjei, Angola, August, 2002 Since 1993, Gaëlle Fedida has worked in humanitarian aid in a wide variety of countries, including...

FEX: Sudan: The Perils of Aid

Edited from essay by John Ryle In the course of Sudan's long civil war it has become easy to create famine, easy both for the government and for factions in the south of the...

FEX: GIS Links Food Security and Demining Programmes

Summary of published paper1 According to a recent article in Humanitarian Exchange, geographic information systems (GIS) are playing an increasingly important role in food...

FEX: Delivering Supplementary and Therapeutic Feeding in Darfur: coping with Insecurity

By Gwyneth Hogley Cotes, GOAL Gwyneth joined GOAL in November, 2005 as the Nutrition Coordinator for Darfur, Sudan. She has a BA in International Studies and Master of Public...

FEX: Documenting the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan (2001)

By Pieternella Pieterse Pieternella Pieterse is a free-lance photojournalist. Based in Ethiopia, she travels extensively throughout eastern and central Africa. Earlier this...

FEX: Selective Feeding in War-Ravaged Northern Uganda

Mothers receiving supplementary ration By: John Moore and Mara Berkley-Mathews John Martin Moore completed training as a Registered General Nurse at National University...

FEX: A collaborative approach to a nutritional crisis in an area accessible only by air

By Nicola Cadge and Lynne Russell Nicola Cadge has a background in nursing and a Masters Degree in Public Health. Nicola has worked for Merlin for more than two years both in...

FEX: DPRK in Crisis, What Do We Know?

This overview of the current situation in the DPRK and its context, was researched and written for Field Exchange by Killian Forde with editorial assistance from Lola Gostelow...


Reference this page

Anthony Robbins (). Protecting production in Africa’s forgotten war. Field Exchange 8, November 1999. p4.



Download to a citation manager

The below files can be imported into your preferred reference management tool, most tools will allow you to manually import the RIS file. Endnote may required a specific filter file to be used.