The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today began airlifting much-needed relief supplies to the war-torn north-eastern corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to help tens of thousands of people living in terror of one of Africa's most notorious rebel groups.
The WFP operation is bringing food and emergency equipment to Dungu, a town in Orientale Province, where civilians have been attacked in recent months by Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a notorious rebel group that has waged war against Ugandan Government forces since the mid-1980s.
“The suffering in Dungu has been overlooked as events further south in Goma and North Kivu have taken centre stage in recent weeks,” said Mustapha Darboe, WFP Regional Director for East, Central and Southern Africa. “Many thousands have been displaced, and are living in fear of their children being abducted. Their situation could hardly be any worse.”
The agency said that at least 70,000 people are believed to be in need of help in an area where insecurity has severely hampered humanitarian access.
More than one dozen cargo flights loaded with WFP food aid will be flown into Dungu from Uganda's main airport at Entebbe. It will also airlift UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) emergency supplies, UN World Health Organization (WHO) medical kits and 10,000 liters of diesel fuel.
Food rations are also being distributed to nearly 200,000 people – including many who were uprooted by fighting between the Congolese army and several armed groups in the region – in Bunia in Orientale province.
WFP is continuing to help those affected by heavy clashes in North and South Kivu provinces.
Last month, the agency reached over half a million people in eastern DRC, 383,000 of whom are in North Kivu. But it noted that it still cannot reach some 70,000 people in the province due to the fighting and poor road conditions.
Escalating conflict between Government forces (FARDC) and a rebel group militia known as the National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP) has uprooted an estimated 250,000 people since late August, mainly in North Kivu.
Other armed groups, including the Mayi Mayi, have also been involved in deadly clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines.
WFP is also feeding the 17,000 Congolese who have fled across the border to neighbouring Uganda.
In a Op-Ed published in The Washington Times yesterday, the UN peacekeeping chief stressed that with a “humanitarian tragedy” unfolding in the eastern DRC, it is imperative that action be taken immediately to protect the population and bring an end to the fighting.
“The situation in the Congo highlights the dilemma, and limits, of peacekeepers caught in ongoing conflict,” said Alan Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.
The UN mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, is the Organization's largest, with 17,000 personnel.
“However, compared to the enormity of the tasks it is assigned and the vast expanse of the DRC – roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi and virtually without infrastructure – this number is actually rather small,” Mr. Le Roy said.
For example, in Kosovo, NATO deployed 40,000 highly-trained and well-equipped troops to an area 200 times smaller than the DRC, he added.
“Civilians have suffered from intense and often chaotic fighting, driven from their homes, caught in the crossfire and subjected to direct attacks and reprisals by armed groups and undisciplined elements of the national army,” the official said.