WFP gets emergency food to eastern DRC, but fears persist for outlying areas

Published on 14 September 2007

WFP has warned that though many of the tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days have now received emergency rations, there are serious concerns for those who remain beyond its reach do to insecurity.

WFP has warned that though many of the tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days have now received emergency rations, there are serious concerns for those who remain beyond its reach due to insecurity.

“We are working round the clock to reach people who have fled with virtually nothing,” said WFP DRC Country Director

We are dealing with a humanitarian emergency that could spiral out of control unless we get proper access to the worst-affected areas
WFP DRC Country Director Charles Vincent

Charles Vincent. “Across the east, the situation is getting worse every day for innocent civilians caught up in this conflict. There are too many we are currently unable to reach.”

The most recent violence in North Kivu Province has forced many thousands to flee in fear from their villages in search of safety. Over 50,000 have gathered around the village of Mugunga, 10 kilometres west of the provincial capital Goma, after escaping fighting in Masisi district.

Poor security and limited access

By Thursday evening, WFP had distributed a 10-day ration of maize flour, peas, oil and salt to more than 35,000 people at Mugunga. The distributions continue as long as daylight allows.

However, poor security has severely limited access beyond Mugunga to the worst-affected areas of Masisi, where at least 7,000 more people are believed to be living in the bush in urgent need of food and other assistance.

On Tuesday, after days of trying, WFP managed to deliver emergency supplies to Masisi town for malnourished children and civilians injured in the fighting.

Insecurity restrictions

An additional 30,000 people are believed to have fled Masisi into South Kivu, where WFP is working through its partners to reach them with urgent food assistance.

However, access to the vast majority of displaced people in the province remains restricted by insecurity. In most cases, WFP requires armed escorts from the UN mission in DRC (MONUC) to reach them.

Preliminary reports from outlying areas of North Kivu, where large numbers of people are known to be displaced, indicate an alarming increase in rates of acute malnutrition. It is reaching close to 19 percent in some cases – well past the emergency threshold.

The situation among the displaced in South Kivu Province is little better, with rates climbing to 17 percent.

Health deteriorating

People’s health and immune systems are being eroded by constant displacement and being forced to sleep out in the bush to avoid attacks, making children even more vulnerable to malnutrition. The agricultural economy that the vast majority depends on has been all but destroyed in many areas.

“We are dealing with a humanitarian emergency that could spiral out of control unless we get proper access to the worst-affected areas,” said Vincent.

The latest population movements bring the total number of people displaced in the Kivus close to one million. Two-thirds are in North Kivu, where 300,000 have fled their homes since November last year alone.

Meeting tripled needs

WFP urgently requires an additional US$12 million for immediate regional purchase of food and further borrowings from neighbouring WFP operations in order to provide full rations to the needy, mostly in the east, until the end of the year.

The need for food assistance in DRC, predominantly in the east, has tripled in the past year and these most recent displacements put an ever greater strain on WFP resources. Rations distributed to the longer-term displaced have been halved in order to eke out stocks.

Even after using recent contributions to organize food loans from neighbouring WFP offices in the region to cover the increased needs, the DRC operation still faces breaks in food supplies.