Tens of thousands of people in DR of Congo "in dire need" of food: UN agency

Tens of thousands of people in DR of Congo "in dire need" of food: UN agency

Unloading WFP aid in DRC
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that a humanitarian crisis is surfacing in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as desperate men, women and children begin arriving in towns in search of food after extended periods of isolation due to civil conflict.

"We estimate that tens of thousands of people who have been repeatedly displaced by insecurity or have been trapped deep in the bush by armed militias, are extremely hungry and malnourished," said Claude Jibidar, WFP Coordinator for Eastern DRC, speaking about Northern Katanga province.

As aid workers gain access to cut-off areas also in North and South Kivu, the agency is prepared to find populations in a similarly grave condition as those seen in northern Katanga.

To respond to the crisis, WFP is deploying staff to various parts of the country, and has plans to urgently launch an airlift of emergency supplies to a number of isolated locations. However, the agency is facing a major funding crunch, having received only 30 per cent of the funding needed to operate its current operation to feed 1.4 million people, and still needing $43 million to feed soaring numbers of hungry Congolese until the end of the year.

Mr. Jidibar, who recently returned from a first-time WFP food delivery operation in the rebel-held town of Manono, reported seeing throngs of mothers and children - either extremely emaciated or bloated from malnutrition and wearing only shreds of clothes - anxiously awaiting much-need relief food.

Roughly 23 per cent of children under five of Manono's 25,000 population are malnourished, and 19 per cent severely so, the agency reports.

Countries who have donated to WFP's $61 million requirement for the DRC in 2001 are Canada, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States.