The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an emergency airlift to provide food for over 100,000 desperate and hungry people in the town of Bunia, who were forced from their homes by fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The operation, carried out together with the agency's implementing partner, German Agro Action (GAA), will deliver 892 tons of food - including maize flour, pulses, beans and vegetable oil - to some 115,000 people, most of whom are women and children, according to Felix Bamezon, WFP's Country Director for the DRC. The provisions will be sufficient to feed the displaced population in Bunia for roughly one month.
"It is a desperate situation that calls for desperate measures," Mr. Bamezon said, stressing that a lack of funds and landing clearance from the local authorities prevented WFP from carrying out any relief airlifts until now. Making matters worse, since last August, prevailing insecurity forced the agency to suspend its efforts to transport supplies to the town by road.
"The start of this operation is a welcome step forward because we will finally be able to assist tens of thousands hungry people," said Mr. Bamezon. He cautioned however that given the high costs of airlifts, delivering food in this way could only be a short-term solution. "In the long term, we need the fighting to stop so we can reach these areas by road," he said.
Fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups in Ituri province has sent large numbers of men, women and children fleeing towards Bunia. Adding to that, thousands who fled the towns of Epulu and Mambasa in Orientale province when factional clashes erupted last October have also sought refuge in Bunia.
Along with Bunia, WFP is planning to airlift food to other parts of eastern Congo including the town of Kindu in Maniema province. In total, the agency is targeting around 1.5 million displaced people throughout the DRC, whose living conditions and nutritional status are extremely precarious. The Bunia operation is entirely funded by the European Commission.