Relief food held at ports, WFP concerned

Desperately needed emergency food aid has been sitting in Angolan ports because the customs and processing charges have not been paid, IRIN has learnt.

The World Food Programme (WFP) confirmed the situation when approached by IRIN for comment.

With WFP stocks quickly running out, the organisation will be left with no choice but to cut rations of pulses - beans, lentils and peas - to the 1.8 million desperate Angolans it plans to feed this month.

WFP spokesman in Angola, Marcelo Spina-Hering, confirmed that the 8,500 mt of urgently needed food aid, mainly pulses, was blocked from leaving the harbour. This would have a severe impact on the needy as pulses are the main source of protein in WFP rations.

At present WFP had "available for delivery only 31 mt of pulses, that's nothing for Angola, that's just nothing", he said.

"The reason they are sitting there [relief stocks] is because customs clearance charges and processing fees were not paid, it's not WFP who pays those fees it's the government. In terms of a long-term agreement we have with the government, this is one of the ways the government had committed itself to contribute to WFP's work in Angola, by clearing those custom charges.

"We have over a long period now been in contact with MINARS [the Ministry of Social Reintegration], we deal with them on humanitarian aid aspects. We've been following this up with MINARS over time, they say that they are taking measures on this but it has been going on for some time now and the food is still blocked [from leaving the ports], we have come to a point where our stocks are [depleted] and we have to cut rations," said Spina-Hering.

WFP was also concerned that shipments of about 30,000 mt of food aid due to arrive this month could also be held up at the ports. "We have a lot of shipments arriving in October that would allow us to carry on our distributions for the next couple of months, and also eventually start with the necessary pre-positioning of food in Angola in order to avoid a cut in distributions in some areas that will be inaccessible during the rains," he noted. WFP needed to pre-position 12,000 mt ahead of the rains.

The seriousness of the situation was also underlined by Fasil Tezera, the head of mission for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Belgium.

"That is also our concern, our worry. The food is stuck in the port and the population in need is waiting for it, if we don't get it in time of course the population will suffer. It is frustrating. The nutritional status of the population that WFP is serving is very fragile, where we are working the situation has stabilised but if general food distribution, for one reason or another, is interrupted the situation could deteriorate very fast," Tezera warned.

Spina-Hering said it would be "a disaster" if the October shipments were also blocked.

"Then we are not only out of pulses but out of stock. We are still appealing to the international community, to donors, to send more food, because with these shipments in October our distributions would only be able to carry on to the end of December, if we don't receive more food we will not be able to deliver as of January. If the stocks that are committed to arrive in October are blocked then our distributions will be suspended before December. It's absolutely vital that stock is cleared," he warned.

The relief food is stranded at three ports - Lobito, Launda and Namibe - and some of the consignments had been sitting there since the beginning of September.

"Everybody has to work together to get these relief items delivered to the populations in need. These populations depend entirely on this supply from WFP," Tezera added.

Aid agencies are expecting the number of people in need to rise from 1.8 million in October to 1.9 million in December.