Starvation grips Angolan rebel area: Fighting around Huambo destroys crops and hampers aid efforts

HIS EMACIATED frame carried by his neighbours, Nascimento Massambo slowly emerged from his mud-brick home to explain why he and his six children were starving to death.

'When the illness came, it was just slowly, slowly,' he said. 'I can't cope and until now there is no food in the house to the point where the illness is affecting the children. I have sold off everything and have no way to make ends meet.'

His parents succumbed last year, and Mr Massambo, 45, a farmer, has spent the last three months fighting a losing battle against starvation that has made little stick creatures dressed in rags of his six children.

Mr Massambo's story is repeated in hundreds of homes in villages and neighbourhoods around the central highlands city of Huambo, where Angola's renewed civil war and drought last year have brought severe food shortages to a region once regarded as the country's breadbasket. Thousands of children wander around the area dressed in rags and bedevilled by kwashiorkor.

Mariano Ndelefy, the senior soba, or elder, of Nanghenya village, about 15 miles (24km) east of Huambo, said one-tenth of his 675 villagers had starved to death since November. 'It began in November, and the children were the first to begin dying,' he said. 'We are eating some leaves, but the people do not have the strength to look for food anymore.'

Fierce clashes around Huambo in the past year between troops loyal to Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebels and soldiers of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos's Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government, and aerial bombardments, have destroyed a once vibrant agricultural economy. The war resumed after Mr Savimbi refused to accept his defeat in UN-backed general elections in September 1992 and, after a 55-day siege, Unita captured Huambo in March last year.

Since then, efforts by international aid agencies to rush in food supplies have been hampered by bombing raids by government jets and by fears that the fighting, which had been at a low ebb during the past three months of UN-brokered peace talks in Lusaka, Zambia, would flare afresh.

Those fears were proved correct on Saturday as intense battles erupted around another important central highlands town, Cuito, about 120 miles east of Huambo. Radio reports from the area said at least 48 people had been killed at the weekend and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sought to negotiate the evacuation of foreign aid workers from the rebel-besieged city.

The food shortages in the central highlands, home of the staunchly pro-Unita Ovimbundu people, were expected to worsen between now and the end of March, the usual time for harvesting the region's vast maize fields, according to aid workers and Catholic Church officials in the area. Food available on the open market is too expensive for most residents of Huambo, where the destruction of industries and government offices has meant unemployment is nearly 100 per cent.

Even the harvest could be jeopardised by the lack of rains in recent weeks. 'We are praying, hoping every day for the rain,' said Cornelius Kok, a Dutch Catholic priest who has been at the Cuando mission, about five miles from Nanghenya, for the past 14 years. 'I have never seen people dying here because they had nothing to eat. A lot of people are going to the city, but there is nothing to eat there. People are selling off everything they have: clothes, shoes, tables.'

As they have in similarly distressed government-controlled areas, aid agencies such as Caritas, the ICRC, the Save the Children Fund, Medecins sans Frontieres and the UN World Food Programme have been setting up feeding kitchens in Huambo and sending in food for the past month, but supplies have fallen well short of needs.

Roger Ruffy, the ICRC delegate in Huambo, estimated that more than 200,000 people in and around Huambo were in immediate danger. 'It is quite a grim situation that we face now because we know that we do not really attend the needs of the very malnourished children who make up two-fifths of the children . . . in our kitchens,' said Mr Ruffy.

One such victim was Fornuto Sapara, 2, whose survival chances were rated poor by the chief nurse at Huambo's central hospital's paediatric ward, which cares for 90 severely malnourished children.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Heli Ski Specialist

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: ACS qualified Domestic Gas Brea...

Recruitment Genius: Product Packager / Stock Assistant

£16250 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Product Packager / Stock Assistant is ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen