Stronger army escorts and increasing prospects for peace in Angola are already having a positive impact on the delivery of humanitarian aid across the country, a World Food Programme (WFP) official told IRIN on Wednesday.
"Right now about 60 percent of what we deliver is going by road and 40 percent by air," said Kodendera Belliappa, WFP head of surface operations in Angola.
This is in stark contrast to the situation a short while ago, when the ongoing war between government and UNITA troops forced WFP to deliver about 65 percent of its relief aid by plane. The poor state of airstrips and limited capacity of aircraft able to land on them often hampered operations and inflated costs.
However, in recent months, with the de-escalation of the military conflict in many parts of the country, and with greater cooperation from the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), WFP has been able to use roads which have been unsafe for many years to get food to the needy.
With the signing of a truce between UNITA and the government scheduled for Thursday, there is cautious hope that the situation will improve even further.
Belliappa said the amount of food being delivered by road had begun to increase even before UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi's death in February. Until last month, he said, the agency was moving 600 mt or 700 mt of relief food with each convoy.
However, after discussions with the military leadership and stronger army escorts for the convoys, this figure had increased to about 3,000 mt per convoy.
Belliappa said though that the agency was still flying 100 percent of relief items to Luena, Saurimo and Menongue because of dangerous road conditions.
He said that while deliveries during the rainy season were still unpredictable, improved political and military conditions had a substantial impact on deliveries from Lobito in the east to the central towns of Huambo and Kuito. It was now possible for convoys to reach Kuito in about five days, whereas it took about 25 days in the past because of "escort problems and all of that", he said.
"Actually it all started from August and September, when it [road deliveries] picked up and then ... we were not very confident of dispatching too many trucks in one convoy. We were sending only maize, thinking that expensive commodities would attract attacks, but after the military started [providing] good escorts, we increased [the number of] trucks and commodities," said Belliappa.
His comments came hours before UNITA and government officials were expected to meet in the capital, Luanda, to formalise a truce reached between FAA and UNITA commanders on Saturday.
The UN recently estimated that about 500,000 people in dire need of food and medical care were beyond reach because of the war. Easier access to these people could dramatically ease the humanitarian crisis facing the country.