News and Information

Angola: Drought Sparks Ethnic Tensions
September 15, 2004
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

September 15, 2004
Posted to the web September 15, 2004


Four people have died and nine more have been injured in ethnic unrest sparked by a shortage of water in Angola's southern Huila province, according to humanitarian workers and media reports.

A severe lack of rainfall in an area straddling Huila, Cunene and Namibe provinces in the southwest, which is home to thousands of nomadic cattle farmers and their 1.5 million head of cattle, has ignited tension in the area.

Humanitarian workers told IRIN that life for these traditional farmers had worsened substantially over the past five years as big farmers claimed stretches of communal land for their own paddocks.

"Some huge farmers have extended their land, reducing land for grazing and water points for traditional cattle breeders," said a Huila-based humanitarian worker, who asked not named.

The government had created a cattle corridor for them to move around in, and provided water points, but with many of these points drying up, the nomads have been forced to keep moving.

"This policy had already increased tensions in the area, but the drought this year has made the situation worse," said the humanitarian source.

"Normally the cattle use traditional water pools, but they are having to move to find water, so we have a lot of cattle in a few areas. This has led to cattle being stolen; increased disease - you can imagine the rising tensions," the aid worker added.

The official Jornal de Angola reported on Saturday that fighting broke out between the Muvakahona ethnic group from Gambos province in southern Huila, and the Mucubal people bordering Namibe province.

A source close to the Huila provincial government said it was a revenge attack after a group of Muvakahona stole more than 200 head of cattle from the Mucubals.

"This kind of thing happens all the time - it is a traditional dispute-solving system," the government source said. "We just didn't hear much about it before because we didn't have any police there, but now we are working to try to reduce this kind of behaviour."

Humanitarian workers said the rivalry between the two groups was long-standing and, although the conflict had abated for now, there were fears that it could quite easily flare up again.

The provincial governors of Huila, Cunene, Namibe and Benguela were expected to meet on Tuesday to hammer out ways of preventing such disputes in the future. "The problem is over for now, but we don't know what will happen tomorrow or next week," an aid worker said.

Poor rainfall has also been causing problems elsewhere in Angola, with the drought situation declared an emergency in the central province of Kwanza Sul, as well as in Cunene.

The World Food Programme conducted rapid assessments earlier this month, but there are estimates of more than 25,000 people in the two provinces in need of immediate food assistance, according to the latest report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


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