United nations envoy for war-affected children calls for urgent action to halt humanitarian crisis in angola

17/05/2002

AFR/413 HR/4594

LUANDA/NEW YORK, 17 May (OSRSG) — At the conclusion of a week-long visit to Angola (11-17 May), Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, called for immediate action to provide urgent assistance to displaced persons, especially those emerging from previously National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)-controlled areas.

Mr. Otunnu said: During my visits to camps, provincial hospitals, and transit centres for displaced persons, I found that most of the children were suffering from severe malnutrition, malaria, pneumonia, scabies and other preventable diseases. The reports I received during my visit consistently indicated that the humanitarian situation in the quartering and family areas is very grave, with children and women being the most vulnerable. Unless immediate action is taken to provide food, medicine, and water, the present humanitarian crisis could easily assume tragic proportions. I appeal to the Government of Angola and to the international humanitarian community to join hands and mobilize to save lives.

The impact of the 30-year civil war in Angola has been particularly devastating for children: out of over 4 million who have been displaced within the country, more than 50 per cent are children; 100,000 children have been separated from their families; more than 50,000 children have been orphaned; malnutrition in war-affected areas is severe and widespread; children are the majority of the 70,000 people who have been maimed by landmines; over 60 per cent of children are not able to attend school; and 5,000 schools and 60 per cent of hospitals and health centres have been destroyed in the course of the war.

Mr. Otunnu conducted field visits in the provinces of Bie, Moxico and Benguela. He held discussions with cabinet ministers and other senior government officials, UNITA leadership, provincial governors, parliamentary leaders, church leaders, civil society and non-governmental organization representatives.

In addition to responding to the immediate humanitarian emergency, the Special Representative called for specific actions for the benefit of the children of Angola. These include:

— The rehabilitation of schools and health centres;

— An increase in spending in the social sector, particularly health, education, and nutrition. In this regard, the Special Representative commended the steps already taken by the Government of Angola to increase budgetary allocations for the social secto

— The protection of children, in particular, the ratification by the Government of Angola of international treaties prohibiting the use of child soldiers and banning the use of landmines;

— An expedited process for the identification, rehabilitation and reintegration of former child combatants;

— Programmes for landmine awareness and demining;

— Strengthening the role of civil society in advocating and protecting children and youth;

Placing the concerns of children at the centre of post-conflict programmes for recovery and reconstruction.

Mr. Otunnu concluded his visit by saying: Ending the war is the best news for children in Angola. And I am very encouraged by the spirit of cohesion and reconciliation I encountered in all sectors of Angolan society, despite the years of bitter conflict . . . The challenge now is to invest in children. Investing in children is the best way to invest in peace and stability.

For further information, contact: Maimouna Mills, Communications Officer, telephone 212 963-9879; e-mail: millsm@un. org.