AS civil war approaches its third decade in Angola, a generation of children has been lost. No matter how many sites I visit to urge solutions to humanitarian disasters, it is the images of hungry children that haunt me the most.
In Angola, the paradox of starving and malnourished children is especially insane. Angola is a green and fertile nation with thousands of miles of temperate Atlantic shoreline and has a vast supply of oil and diamonds. River valleys and rich savannas are made even more valuable by a relatively low population and density rate. There are no desert droughts in Angola. The nation is free of the geographical calamities affecting Somalia and Sudan.
It is Angola's leaders who perpetuate the senseless tragedy affecting its 3.3 million people.
I took the Congressional Hunger Caucus and my new nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Congressional Hunger Center, to Angola because of reports from the United States State Department that hundreds were perishing daily from hunger and disease. Thousands of malnourished orphans were scavenging for food in city trash heaps and across mine-infested grain fields. I read of children scooping up handfuls of dirt tinged with powdered milk that had sifted from sacks of relief food.
I found scenes like these in Angola - and something more. Amid the jammed refugee camps, the dusty therapeutic feeding centers, and the putrid marketplaces, I found well equipped and healthy soldiers from both sides of the civil war who were seemingly unmoved by the misery at their feet.
Even more disturbing than this spectacle is the disgraceful example of personal comfort set by the leaders that the militiamen esteem. A palace-ensconced president and tempermental ministers, preoccupied with political positioning and perpetuating war, bring pain and injustice to their people. Years of destructive conflict in Angola have caused massive displacement, disrupted agricultural production, destroyed infrastructure, and paralyzed the economy.
Food aid is necessary in Angola, and the international NGOs and multilateral organizations that work there are truly angels of mercy. But this temporary help is not the lasting answer for Angola. Serious international pressure must be leveled on the rulers who ignore cease-fire agreements and continually dash Angola's hope for normalcy. Their jockeying for power, land, oil, and diamonds while children receive inadequate health care, lack basic education, and even starve, is inexcusable.
The leaders are greedy; further, they have enabled the purveyance of weapons - including land mines. Universal condemnation of their actions is essential to ending hunger in Angola.
The bright news from Angola is the cooperation exhibited by dozens of dedicated NGOs and various offices of the United Nations. Honorable mentions are due to World Vision, the International Committee for the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Concern, Catholic Relief Services, and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.
I also was impressed by the relatively new UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, which is responsible for the overall coordination of humanitarian relief to people subsisting under the eyes of warring factions. The World Food Program has proved invaluable in supporting and delivering relief in Angola, and the NGOs have been exemplary in distributing life-saving commodities.
There appears now to be only one obstacle preventing Angola from moving from relief to rehabilitation - Angola's leaders.