BUJUMBURA - The United Nations World Food Programme is feeding thousands of refugees who have crossed into Burundi and Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo to escape violence that temporarily paralysed WFP's aid operations in much of eastern DRC.
"So far, with the help of UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and CARE, we distributed more than 25 tonnes of WFP food rations - enough food for eight days of emergency assistance - to some 5,000 refugees from the DRC in three communes in northern Burundi," said Foday Turay, WFP's Deputy Country Director in Burundi.
"We are closely monitoring the status and movements of our beneficiaries, especially any new influxes from the DRC. We will continue to provide assistance wherever and whenever necessary in the coming days and weeks," Turay said. UNHCR said on Tuesday an estimated 17,000 refugees had entered Burundi, either fleeing civil war or because they feared revenge attacks in the DRC.
With the numbers arriving in Burundi increasing almost every day, WFP dispatched a convoy today loaded with 90 tonnes of food from the capital Bujumbura to Cibitoke and Rugombo in the northwest to provide the refugees with an emergency one-week ration.
The first WFP food was distributed at the three sites of Gatumba, Cibitoke and Rugombo last Saturday and more rations were handed out yesterday. The first groups of refugees fled the eastern DRC a week ago. The largest initial group at Gatumba crossed from the city of Uvira, fearing an outbreak of fighting, while many of those in Cibitoke and Rugombo fled with virtually only the clothes on their backs during clashes in their home areas, WFP staff said.
WFP has also supplied almost 20 tonnes of food to some 2,300 Congolese who have crossed into Rwanda from the eastern DRC city of Bukavu since 27 May. A new distribution will take place this week. Renegade troops captured the capital of South Kivu province on 2 June and subsequent looting and violence halted most of WFP's aid operations in the east. Rebel forces pulled out a week later and government troops took control of Bukavu on 8 June.
"We have already moved enough food to the border town of Cyangugu to feed those who are already there for a month and are geared up to move more supplies to sites if more people have to cross into Rwanda," said Alix Loriston, WFP's Deputy Country Director for Rwanda.
In a separate operation, WFP is sending food from the northeastern DRC city of Bunia for more than 260 families who fled their homes in Drodro in Ituri district in the last two weeks after an attack on civilians by a dissident militia commander. The displaced include women and children - some of whom are wounded or suffering from malnutrition. German Agro Action, WFP's partner in the area, will also provide food and distribute it to the displaced.
Felix Bamezon, WFP Representative and Country Director for the DRC, said two WFP international staff relocated from Bukavu to the northeastern city of Goma at the height of the fighting returned to Bukavu on Tuesday to assess the situation in the city. "We have enough food in Bukavu to keep working in the area if, and only if, security allows it," he said.
Late last week, the United Nations top humanitarian official, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, urged "those involved in the recent fighting to provide humanitarian workers with the safe and unhindered access they need to deliver aid to the affected population."
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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