Food aid urged for thousands fleeing havoc and hardship in eastern DRC

Published on 25 July 2006

In the run-up to the long-awaited elections, violence persists in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes yet again.

In the run-up to the long-awaited elections, violence persists in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes yet again. WFP today warned that its food stocks were being stretched to breaking point and urged international donors to sustain their commitment to assist this strife-torn country.

The situation is particularly worrying in Gety, in Ituri Province of Eastern DRC, where some 38,000 internally displaced people have taken refuge in the wake of recent fighting between militias and government troops.

The historic elections are attracting the world’s attention but whatever the outcome, the need for food assistance will remain.

Felix Bamezon, WFP Country Director in DRC

On 14 July, WFP distributed a two-week ration to 30,000 people in Gety from its warehouses in Bunia, Ituri – but more resources are urgently needed. WFP food stocks in Bunia have almost run out after a distribution yesterday to more than 14,300 displaced people in Kotoni, 12 kilometres from Bunia.

“These are the largest displacements that we’ve had to deal with in this region for at least two years, when the last heavy fighting occurred here,” said Felix Bamezon, WFP Country Director in DRC.

“The historic elections are attracting the world’s attention but whatever the outcome, the need for food assistance will remain.”

Dire situation

The humanitarian situation in DRC is dire. People’s livelihoods are extremely precarious. If fighting breaks out and people are forced to flee, it can have a devastating impact – especially on children, who often suffer most.

Non-governmental organizations running nutrition centres in Bunia were already reporting a rise in the number of malnourished children admitted since the beginning of July.

Malnourished children

In Gety itself, more than 200 cases of severe malnutrition have been reported in the past few days alone. And in Bunia, the Italian NGO, COOPI, which is provided with WFP food for malnourished children and their parents, is caring for 169 children – well beyond its maximum capacity of 120.

“I came to Gety with two of my children, one died when we arrived, the other is now being treated,” said Joseph Kasuigi.

Hoping for help

“Our village was attacked by militias and we spent a month in the forest. A group of us would go off for two days at a time to scour the bush for food to bring back to our families; we then came to Gety hoping for help.”

The tense security situation is also disrupting humanitarian activity. In June, the road from Bunia to Gety was blocked for several days by fighting.

All aid workers have reduced their movements during the week preceding the 30 July elections, because of security concerns.

Timely donations

Timely donations are crucial. “We are sincerely grateful for the recent contributions to WFP operations in DRC, but we urge the international community to act faster - as it takes two to three months for the food to get to the most vulnerable people,” said Bamezon.

“When we don’t have resources, or they arrive late, we have no choice but to reduce rations.”

Shortfall

Currently WFP has just 58 per cent of the US$253 million required for its relief and recovery operation in DR Congo, from January 2004 until June 2007 – leaving a shortfall of US$106 million. Over the next 12 months, WFP aims to feed some1.7 million people in DRC.

In Katanga, in the south east, thousands of people have returned home from Sampwe where they had taken refuge. Eager to start a new life and rebuild their homes, they will still need food assistance, as well as seeds and farming tools, to see them through the crucial months before their first harvest in February.

In June, WFP provided food to more than 83,300 internally displaced persons in Katanga, using stocks built up through a series of air drops in April. Further air drops may be considered, if funds are available.

Turning point

The Congolese people are now at a crucial turning point as they prepare to vote for the first time in free and democratic elections.

Unfortunately, every day, in some areas, people are harassed by armed groups in their houses or their fields, asking for food or money. Women are also regularly victims of rape.

Persistent insecurity

DRC is one of the most challenging environments for humanitarian work because of its vast size, its poverty, the persistent insecurity in the East and the dismal lack of funding.

The country ranks 167 out of 177 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, and the average life expectancy is just 43.1 years. WFP has 13 sub-offices in DRC.

Over 60 percent of its food assistance is directed to the east of the country (North and South Kivu, Maniema, North Katanga and Ituri).