Even Harder Times Ahead For Displaced In DR Congo

The World Food Programme is currently experiencing a shortage of funds – and consequently of food stocks - for its operations in DRC. This has already forced WFP to cut food rations in camps for displaced people in the east of the country. So serious has the funding situation now become that food assistance to many is set to be stopped altogether in coming months.

For the past six months, Faida (40) and her eight children have been surviving on half rations in Mugungu 1 camp in eastern DRC’s North Kivu province. Faced with limited resources, WFP has been forced to cut back the level of assistance given to these and other displaced people (IDPs) to ensure the continuation of WFP programmes elsewhere in the country. It’s far from ideal but at least the food Farida and her children have been receiving has been just about enough to sustain them.

Farida, her husband and children are huddled in one of the thousands of makeshift tents that crowd the rocky volcanic ground at the foot of Mount Nyiragongo near Goma. They have been living there since fighting forced them to flee their village of Mahanga in Masisi territory in 2011. In all, there are more than 53,000 IDPs in Mugunga 1.

Forest risk

“Without support from WFP, we women would have to wander into the forest to cut wood for sale”, says Faida. “But everyone knows that women and girls who go into the forest risk getting raped or kidnapped”.

For the ‘privilege’ of running such a risk, women have to pay a “tax” of 200 Congolese francs (about US 20 cents) to unscrupulous racketeers some of whom, it is alleged, are members of the local security forces.

“Very few of us have any money”, she says. “If we did, we’d use it to buy food. But the very people who should be protecting us are taking advantage of us”.

Five camps

Her husband works as a daily labourer in a sand quarry. He earns 50 cents a day and with that has to support his whole family. None of Faida’s children goes to school.

There are five makeshift camps around Goma, housing more than 150,000 IDPs. In the whole of North Kivu province, there are as many as 900,000 IDPs. WFP has been giving food assistance to half a million people in North Kivu of whom 300,000 are IDPs.

As from next month, WFP’s food stocks in Goma will be almost exhausted. Given the long lead times for transportation of commodities to this remote location in Africa’s interior, the next delivery of food - made possible by a contribution to WFP of $30 million from the United States – will not be until March or April.

Most vulnerable

In the intervening months, WFP will have no option but limit food assistance to the most vulnerable beneficiaries in the camps including unaccompanied and orphaned children, handicapped people, the elderly, the sick and newly arrived displaced people. It is likely that Faida and her family will not get any more WFP food assistance in coming months as they do not fit into any of the categories of extreme vulnerability.

The fighting between the FARDC (Congolese army) and the M23 rebel group would seem to have ended with the surrrender of the latter. But, with so many other armed militias in the eastern DRC, peace remains elusive. For as long as this is the case, people like Faida and her family will be reluctant to return home and resume their lives.