Thousands of displaced Congolese receive food aid but fears persist for others, UN warns

14 September 2007

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that although many of the tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent days have now received emergency rations, there are serious concerns for those who remain beyond its reach due to insecurity.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that although many of the tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent days have now received emergency rations, there are serious concerns for those who remain beyond its reach due to insecurity.

“We are dealing with a humanitarian emergency that could spiral out of control unless we get proper access to the worst-affected areas,” said WFP Country Director Charles Vincent. “We are working round the clock to reach people who have fled with virtually nothing. Across the east, the situation is getting worse every day for innocent civilians caught up in this conflict. There are too many we are currently unable to reach.”

WFP urgently requires an additional $12 million for immediate regional purchase of food and further borrowings from neighbouring WFP operations to provide full rations to the needy, mostly in the east, until the end of the year.

Fighting among the Congolese army, renegade troops and rebels in North Kivu Province has forced many thousands to flee in fear from their villages in search of safety. Over 50,000 have gathered around the village of Mugunga, 10 kilometres west of the provincial capital Goma, after escaping fighting in Masisi district.

By yesterday evening, WFP had distributed a 10-day ration of maize flour, peas, oil and salt to more than 35,000 people at Mugunga, but poor security has severely limited access beyond Mugunga to the worst-affected areas of Masisi, where at least 7,000 more people are believed to be living in the bush in urgent need of food and other aid.

An additional 30,000 people are believed to have fled Masisi into South Kivu, where WFP is working through its partners to reach them with urgent food aid but access to the vast majority of displaced there remains restricted by insecurity. In most cases, WFP requires armed escorts from the UN mission in DRC (MONUC) to reach them.

Preliminary reports from outlying areas of North Kivu, where large numbers of people are known to be displaced, indicate an alarming increase in rates of acute malnutrition, reaching close to 19 per cent in some cases, well past the emergency threshold. The situation in South Kivu is little better, with rates climbing to 17 per cent.

People’s health and immune systems are being eroded by constant displacement and being forced to sleep out in the bush to avoid attacks, making children even more vulnerable to malnutrition. The agricultural economy that the vast majority depends on has been all but destroyed in many areas.

The crisis brings the total of people displaced in the Kivus to close to 1 million, two-thirds of them in North Kivu where 300,000 have fled their homes since November last year alone. The need for food in DRC, predominantly in the east, has tripled in the past year and these most recent displacements put an ever greater strain on WFP resources. Rations distributed to the longer-term displaced have been halved in order to eke out stocks.

Even after using recent contributions to organize food loans from neighbouring WFP offices in the region to cover the increased needs, the DRC operation still faces breaks in food supplies.

Meanwhile the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that most of the 35,000 Congolese who fled from the fighting to Uganda have now returned home, gradually crossing the border as fighting died down.

 

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