The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today said it will extend its operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to feed tens of thousands of former militia members being demobilized in the coming months until next June, “buying them time to get back on their feet.”
The food aid operation was due to expire in December 2005. It will now run through June 2006 at a cost of $191 million, $30 million more than its initial two-year cost, WFP said.
Conflicts in eastern DRC have caused, directly and indirectly, the deaths of nearly four million and the displacement of millions more inside the country and in its neighbours, while the postponement of the elections to end the political transition, originally scheduled for 30 June, illustrated the precarious situation, it said.
“We are at a critical moment in the peace process, one that the international community cannot afford to ignore,” WFP’s Country Director in DRC, Felix Bamezon, said.
“As part of the transition, tens of thousands of ex-combatants will be demobilized in the coming months. They face the daunting task of trying to reintegrate into civilian life, with little or no means initially of supporting themselves or their loved ones. WFP food assistance will buy them time to get back on their feet,” he said.
In the second half of 2005, some 60,000 former army and militia combatants and their families, approximately 300,000 people, will receive a monthly ration of maize meal, beans, vegetable oil and salt. An additional 90,000 demobilized men and their families – some 450,000 people – will receive aid from January until June 2006.
Growing numbers of former militia members have chosen to prey on civilians, looting and burning homes and farmland, rather than join the DRC military, or demobilize and go back to lawful civilian life, WFP said.
“The continued insecurity has had a catastrophic impact on food availability in what would, in peaceful times, be a breadbasket for this country. Fields are being looted by roaming militia and many farmers are simply too afraid to tend their land,” Mr. Bamezon said.
In 2005 and 2006, WFP will feed some 175,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), as well as nearly 400,000 returning refugees. The agency will also continue to feed 22,500 former child soldiers in specialized demobilization programmes.
In addition, the extended food relief operation will aid more than 350,000 malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers and almost 200,000 other vulnerable people. WFP will also provide meals to 678,000 people through food for work, food for training, school feeding and HIV/AIDS programmes, WFP said.