WFP has said that urgently needed WFP food aid is being airlifted aboard helicopters from the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) for thousands of people fleeing fighting in Katanga Province of the eastern DRC.
The needs are still very acute in this vast country, and our operations are badly under-funded
Felix Bamezon, WFP’s Country Director in DRC.
In a joint humanitarian intervention, MONUC helicopters started transporting last week UN agency supplies including seven metric tons of WFP fortified maize flour to Mitwaba town, 600 kilometres from Lubumbashi.
WFP’s partner Action Contre La Pauvrete (ACP) began distributing the food on Saturday.
Flights will continue until this weekend to deliver a total of 30 tons of WFP food aid.
In addition, trucks loaded with 100 tons of WFP maize flour, enriched vegetable oil and salt left Lubumbashi last week for Mitwaba.
The food sent by road and by air should cover the needs of 13,600 displaced people for two months.
“We distributed one-month rations to 20,000 people in July, August, October and November last year in Katanga Province, but fresh fighting has displaced more people in that area,” said Felix Bamezon, WFP’s Country Director in DRC.
Mai-Mai militias attacked civilian settlements and government troops in areas around Mitwaba in recent weeks.
“The insecurity is affecting our logistics operations and following reports of regular attacks by the Mai-Mai, transport companies are reluctant to use the main road from Lubumbashi to Mitwaba. In the absence of a safe humanitarian corridor, we now have to use a longer route, making increased transport costs also an issue,” said Bamezon.
The thousands of people gathered in several camps in Mitwaba welcomed the arrival of WFP food.
“Our village was burned by the Mai-Mai in March last year, I took one child on my shoulders, the other on the back and I ran as fast as I could,” said Kanpinga Mujinga, who gave birth to her third child in a camp in Mitwaba three months ago.
Camps under attack
The camp where Kampinga and her family originally settled was attacked by the Mai-Mai five months ago.
She had to run again and is now seeking help in one of the camps in Mitwaba centre, not far from where the first MONUC helicopter with food aid landed last week.
“We have been relying on the little we earn from working on other people’s fields,” she added.
Malnutrition and insecurity
Many people receive as wages the part of the cassava plant which is normally discarded.
They boil it and turn it into flour, however it has very little nutritious value. Malnutrition rates in eastern DRC average between 10 percent and 20 percent.
The consequences of five years of war in DRC and ongoing unrest in parts of the country are devastating people’s food security. Farmers fear for their lives and cannot tend their fields. Sexual violence against women continues.
People who have stayed in their villages cannot plant near the camps because they are harassed by gunmen.
The security situation around the camps is still very volatile, with people living in fear of attack.
There is particular concern for women who are victims of violence by armed groups.
Helping the vulnerable
For the whole of DRC, WFP needs a total of US$75 million for its US$191 million relief and recovery operation to help up to 1.6 million internally displaced and other vulnerable people in DRC until June this year.
For eastern DRC, WFP urgently needs US$20 million to help some 800,000 internally displaced people and refugees.
“The needs are still very acute in this vast country, and our operations are badly under-funded. We had to close a sub-office in Mbuji-Mayi, the capital of Kasaï Oriental province, in September because of the lack of funding,” said Bamezon.
“We depend on local transporters to carry food in difficult areas.”