WFP starts food airlift to children in eastern DRC, amid fears of funding crisis

Published on 26 September 2006

WFP has recently started airlifting urgent food aid to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, even though it has not received any funding pledges for 2007.

WFP has said that it has recently started airlifting urgent food aid to at least 8,800 needy people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, although it has not yet received any funding pledges for next year’s operations.

More than 70 nutritional centres, run by NGO partners, desperately need food supplies for children, pregnant mothers and returnees.

The fact that we are not funded at all for 2007 is of major concern

Charles Vincent, WFP Country Director for DRC

The situation prompted WFP to contract several commercial airlines to bring a total of 1,450 metric tons of food into the provinces of North Katanga, Maniema and South Kivu, where road and rail transport is virtually non-existent.

Despite the high costs, WFP has resorted to airlifts and airdrops several times this year in order to reach displaced people.

The current airlift, funded by a contribution from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, resumed last week when 116 tons of food were flown from Goma to Kindu in Maniema and Manono in Katanga. It is due to continue until the end of October.

Displaced return home

In Katanga, where thousands of displaced people have returned to their homes to prepare their fields for the next harvest, WFP plans to feed more than 125,000 beneficiaries.

In Kindu, the lack of food forced GOAL (the Irish non-governmental organisation) to close three nutritional centres this year – and mothers have stopped bringing their children.

“Some centres have not received food in months and the situation of the children is particularly worrying. They are in an area cut off by lack of infrastructure and struck by high rates of malnutrition among the local and displaced people,” said Charles Vincent, WFP Country Director for DRC.

Operations hampered

A shortage of funding, especially for logistics, is hampering WFP operations across the DRC.

With some 4,000 tons of food in warehouses in Lubumbashi, southern DRC, WFP is trying to find various ways – including rail – of transporting it to Kindu and North Katanga.

However, a lack of available wagons has made WFP investigate purchasing 25 trucks for the area.

“The continuing electoral process, which is vital for the country’s future, has in no way reduced the considerable humanitarian needs; people remain severely short of food and other essentials, after five years of war and persistent unrest in some areas,” added Vincent.

Dampening the fire

“Here in DRC, we are obliged to act like firemen: we put out a blaze, but we know it will re-ignite unless we provide continuous nutritional support to those in need, especially children,” Vincent said.

The current airlift operation is being financed through a contribution of US$1.95 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, which will also help buy trucks in Lubumbashi.

“We are tremendously grateful for this timely donation as we can react quickly and deliver vital supplies to isolated areas. But for our assistance to continue, and have long-term benefits, we need long-lasting support on a much larger scale from the international community through the months ahead. The fact that we are not funded at all for 2007 is of major concern,” Vincent said.

Ration cuts

Although the number of people in need of food aid has increased, a lack of funding has meant that WFP’s distributions have fallen from 6,500 tons per month in 2005 to 4,700 tons per month this year.

In addition, WFP has been forced not only to cut rations, but also to close down two of its sub-offices over the past year.

WFP aims to feed more than 875,000 people each month, with 7,800 tons of food.

But only 500,000 people are currently provided with rations – and these are reduced.

A total of 35,000 tons of food, valued at US$63 million, is urgently required to meet food needs from October 2006 to June 2007.

So far, WFP has only received half that amount and operations in DRC have a US$31 million shortfall.