Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Angola's fight to restore life after decades of war

Just coming off of a three decade long civil war, Angola has a lot of work to do to improve life in the country. Once ranked the worst for child well being in the world, there has been a little improvement since the war ended in 2002.

From the IPS, reporter Louise Redvers fills us in on the slow progress to restore services in Angola.

Angola is ranked 16th in the world for child mortality. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one in six children here die before they reach their fifth birthday - the main causes of death being malaria, respiratory infections, diarrhoea and other infections.

The ranking, although dire, is at least some improvement from the 2001 count of one in four - which had Angola ranked worst in the world - but there is still some way to go if the country is to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child mortality by two thirds.

Angola’s high child mortality rates are a direct hangover from the country’s three-decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002.

The few health services which existed for Angolans before they gained independence from Portugal in 1975 when the conflict began were soon decimated, and despite its enormous oil and diamond wealth, the country was wracked by poverty.

Millions fled the countryside, where landmines rendered agricultural land useless, and moved to Luanda, now home to an estimated seven million people. The majority lives in shantytowns, known in Angola as musseques, with little access to running water or sanitation.

Since the end of the war, government has undergone a programme of national reconstruction, literally rebuilding or building from scratch all public services.

In addition to building new hospitals and clinics, there has been a focus on training community health workers to promote basic household health, such as hand-washing, water treatment and sleeping under a mosquito net.

New statistics from UNICEF, Angola’s Ministry of Health and the World Bank are due to be published jointly later this year and will be the litmus test to see if government spending has been making a difference.

It will also help government hone in on the worst problem areas and target its spending.

Koen Vanormelingen, UNICEF representative in Angola, believes there has been tremendous progress: "The government is really committed, and it is putting its money where its mouth is. There is of course a time laps between the moment interventions are implemented and when you see the results in terms of lower mortality."

"We are strong believers that Angola will be able to meet their MDGs for reducing child mortality," he said optimistically.

The everyday reality of poverty in Angola's musseques, where children play among piles of litter and stagnant water breeds diseases, seems a long way off Vanormelingen’s colourful statistical bulletins, however.

Acknowledging this, he said: "There is so much to be done at the same time that it gives the impression of anarchy and inefficiencies, but I do believe there is a sense of strategy and direction."

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