It's about 50 km from the bomb-scarred Angolan town of Kuito to the UNITA quartering centre at Ndele. Three months ago, the road would have been impassable - the four bridges that need to be crossed on the way had long since been destroyed. But now, the vehicles of aid agencies and the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) are able to make their way to the camp, crossing makeshift wooden bridges put there by the UNITA soldiers themselves.
The bridges are a sign of what the former guerrillas have been able to achieve with minimal resources now that the civil war in Angola has finished. Ndele, with its neatly laid-out thatch huts, is typical of the quartering areas planned as a central feature of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed by UNITA and the FAA in Luanda on 4 April.
The agreement, hammered out during a fortnight of talks in the eastern town of Luena, brought an end to a civil war that had gone on almost uninterrupted since independence in 1975. Following the death on 22 February of UNITA founder and president Jonas Savimbi, the remaining elements of the UNITA rebel leadership agreed to peace talks.
UNITA at that stage had suffered heavy defeats in Moxico, the eastern province where Savimbi himself was hunted down, but substantial numbers of its troops remained at large in the northern and central areas of the country. The main practical challenge of the peace plan was to get the remaining guerrillas to assemble for disarmament.
The solution was to designate 32 areas around the country - subsequently altered to 34 - where the soldiers were to assemble with their families. UNITA command structures were to be maintained within the camps, with the only presence from the FAA
being a small contingent within the "technical group" - the joint FAA-UNITA unit responsible for demobilisation in each camp.
Officially, more than 84,000 former soldiers have already reached the camps - considerably more than the 55,000 envisaged in the MoU. According to the Joint Military Commission overseeing the demobilisation, the soldiers are accompanied by 250,000 family members.
In reality, the balance may be even more heavily on the side of the civilians. UN officials say that the figure of 84,000 assumes that every adult man with UNITA was a soldier, but that in reality, UNITA had only around 10,000 armed men by the time the war ended.
In terms of the timetable set out in the MoU, the process of disarming the former guerrillas should by now have been completed. But there is no nationwide record of the number of weapons handed in. At the camps visited by IRIN, the number of weapons handed in varied between 10 percent and 25 percent of the official number of soldiers in the camp - though this would be consistent with the much smaller number of armed soldiers as some have suggested.
The lack of any clear information on the number of weapons held by UNITA has led to fears of soldiers retaining their guns. There have already been reports of banditry in the central Bié province, attributed to former UNITA fighters who left the quartering areas.
At the same time, the rapid influx of people into the quartering areas has led to worries about food supplies to the camps.
"We are greatly concerned," said Colonel Faustino Jose, commander of the Ndele camp. "We have received some help from the World Food Programme, but also from other non-governmental organisations but the quantities are insufficient, and we need further help for the people here in the quartering areas."
At Ndele, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff said recently that the number of cases of malnutrition was on the rise, even after the arrival of emergency food aid. Severe cases are being referred to the hospital in Kuito.
"We already sent a total of more than 200 severely malnourished children to Kuito in three or four weeks and every time we come back we find 30, 40 more to send with us," an MSF nurse told IRIN, adding that this was partly, but not entirely, due to the continuing arrival of new families in the quartering area.
In Benguela province, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that preliminary nutritional screenings in some quartering areas during May indicated critical levels of malnutrition among family members. In addition, more than 31,660 UNITA family members required non-food item assistance, including essential medicines and shelter materials.
The Galangue quartering area in Huila province in the south of the country was also among the places assessed by OCHA in late May. A recent OCHA report said that critical needs in this and other sites in the area include "essential drugs, vaccinations, blankets and clothes, agricultural inputs and an adequate water supply".
A recent report by the Catholic broadcaster, Radio Ecclesia, quoted UNITA sources as saying that two people were dying per day in quartering areas in Kwanza Sul province in the north, where security concerns have prevented humanitarian agencies from carrying out assessments.
Yet overall, the situation in the quartering areas is not as desperate as first feared. Even in the remote east of Moxico province, an MSF assessment team that visited the Calala quartering area early in June said that the nutritional situation was "not as bad as we had expected", though there were some cases of malnutrition-related disease.
Generally, food shortages and associated health problems in the quartering areas are being viewed as symptomatic of a wider problem throughout the Angolan countryside, rather than as something specifically associated with the quartering areas.
The UNITA soldiers have spent years on the move, and learned survival skills - as in the case of the road repairs at Ndele which have made food deliveries easier. Children in the camp were also able to benefit from a recent polio vaccination drive, conducted by the government, UN agencies and NGOs, and targeting in particular those areas where the civil war had previously prevented access to health services.
Food supplies from the FAA, intended for the UNITA soldiers, have been shared among civilians in the camps. There was not enough to go around, but with no other assistance reaching the camps during the first weeks of quartering, a little was better than nothing.
In its plan of action for the next six months, OCHA is prioritising meeting the emergency needs of about 250,000 people in what it calls "family areas" - that is, the civilian sections of the quartering areas. To put this in context, OCHA also envisages assisting 800,000 civilians in areas that have become accessible only since the end of the war, and a further 1.9 million people - including newly arrived internally displaced persons (IDPs) - in the areas where humanitarian agencies were already working before 4 April.
Many humanitarian officials have privately expressed some frustration with the amount of political attention being paid to the quartering areas, when the situation of displaced civilians is often a greater cause for concern. Unlike IDPs, the UNITA men have politicians in Luanda speaking on their behalf - and there is a lingering fear that some of them may still have
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions