The top United Nations food and refugee officials today expressed hope that security will soon improve to allow people uprooted by years of conflict in the volatile east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to return home and begin farming their land.
While increasing numbers of people are resuming their lives in the area, António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that “it’s a goal that can only be achieved if protection of civilians in DRC is both a national and international priority.”
For her part, Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said that she has no doubts that “given the support they need, and the stability that they crave, the people of this region can take advantage of the fertile land they live on to build a better future.”
The two officials are currently in North Kivu province, which, along with neighbouring South Kivu, have been ravaged by fighting between Government troops and rebel groups.
In the past 15 months, relative stability has returned to some areas, allowing more than 1 million people to return home, but many have also been displaced recently due to new outbreaks of violence.
Last week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that clashes between DRC troops and remnants of a Ugandan insurgency forced an estimated 20,000 people to flee their villages in North Kivu province.
Ms. Sheeran said that WFP is planning to help communities that are relatively peaceful return to productive lives through schemes involving cash, vouchers and the purchase of local goods to support the agricultural economy.
The two officials were scheduled to visit camps near Nyanzale, more than 100 kilometres from North Kivu’s provincial capital, Goma, housing internally displaced persons (IDPs).
WFP is providing food assistance to some 150,000 uprooted people in North Kivu, including nearly 4,000 in three camps around Nyanzale. The vast majority of the inhabitants of the sites are women, most of whom have lost their husbands and many of whom have been raped during years of strife.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is coordinating humanitarian aid for 84,000 IDPs in 42 camps and is also working to prevent and respond to sexual violence. Since 2007, the agency has helped 106,000 people return to their villages and rebuild their lives.