EU donation boosts social services and demining

Angola's ailing social services sector this week received a much-needed boost from a Euro 91 million (US $115 million) donation by the European Commission (EC).

The EC press officer in Angola, Jeronimo Belo, told IRIN on Tuesday that the funds would complement existing efforts by the government to upgrade and rehabilitate social services throughout the country. Much of the infrastructure was destroyed during the 27-year long civil conflict which ended in 2002.

The bulk of the funds - US $57 million - will go towards expanding the Social Aid Fund, already in its third phase.

"The fund has worked well in other provinces where it has been implemented and now, with this additional support, the assistance can be extended to Bie (central) and Zaire (northwestern) provinces. The focus of the fund is to develop infrastructure, especially schools and small health posts in areas facing severe difficulties. It is expected that returnees as well as local residents will benefit from the projects," Belo said.

Among the many challenges facing Angola are the reintegration and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees returning home after fleeing the war. Returnees have complained of inadequate conditions in areas of return, noting the lack of basic infrastructure.

Some US $25 million of the EU donation will be used to improve the quantity and quality of water available to residents in two of the most densely populated suburbs of the capital, Luanda, said Belo.

Last year the government approved an estimated US $98 million to support projects for improving the supply and distribution of water to Luanda.

Amid ongoing concerns over the widespread presence of landmines, the EU will spend some US $32 million on beefing up demining efforts. Angola is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world and, although there are signs of improvement, aid agencies say their operations have been hampered by the continuing threat.

"It was important for the EC to provide emergency support for Angola," Belo said. "But now that there is peace, and the government is committed to rebuilding the country, it is necessary for there to be ongoing support for this phase in the country's development."