The World Food Programme (WFP) Friday warned that greater numbers of people fleeing fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were stretching the agency’s resources to the limit as thousands gather in camps in search of safety.
Despite a peace agreement signed in January this year, North Kivu province remains a tinderbox of intimidation and violence, with at least 100,000 people forced from their homes in recent months in Rutshuru district alone, the UN agency said in a statement.
The violence and intimidation have since March 2007 brought to over 0.5 million the number of people displaced in the province.
“New camps have sprung up almost overnight, many of them still lacking proper assistance,” the agency said.
WFP has already cut rations in half to some displaced people, particularly those camped close to the provincial capital Goma, in an effort to reach those in most desperate need at the heart of the current conflict zone in the mountainous hinterland.
“Thousands more people have run for their lives in recent months and are now in urgent need of help,” said WFP’s DRC Country Director Charles Vincent.
“There are enormous and growing needs across North Kivu in particular, and we urge the international community to step forward and help us get a very difficult job done,” said the directror.
Since July last year, when WFP planned to distribute 800 metric tons of food per month, steadily increasing displacement now means that WFP plans 10,000 tons per month, an enormous challenge given the volatile security situation, extremely limited road and transport infrastructure and fluctuating supply of food.
WFP staff who have visited the worst affected areas in the Birambizo area of Rutshuru have witnessed mass new displacement and impromptu camps lacking the most basic facilities.
“The camps lack clean water and proper shelter, and we have heard terrifying testimony from people who have fled attacks and looting by armed groups,” he said.
Malnutrition is now running at alarming levels, threatening the lives of thousands of young children.
Across Masisi and Rutshuru, surveys indicate rates for acute malnutrition of over 17 percent – well above emergency levels.
WFP said it is working with specialised NGOs to establish a large number of new feeding centres in an effort to stem the rising tide of malnutrition.
Aggravating the situation is the fact that many families have now been displaced several times as they continue to suffer violence and harassment by armed groups.
In many cases, household food supplies have been looted and farming equipment destroyed or stolen.
Women in particular face the constant threat of violence when they try to cultivate their fields.
“Many of the displaced have now missed three successive planting seasons, reinforcing their reliance on outside assistance,” the statement said.
Much of the displacement has taken place in the heart of the region’s breadbasket, causing food prices to spike sharply in urban areas such as Goma that rely on the hinterland for much of their supply.
“There is a very real risk of a complete disintegration in the nutritional status of the people we are trying to reach. WFP has the ability to save lives and make a very real difference – we just need the means,” said Vincent.
WFP requires US$142 million for its operations in eastern DRC over the next 12 months.
Donors to the current operation include United States (US$62 million), European Commission (US$25 million) and UN CERF (US$16 million).
Others donors are France (US$8.7 million), Canada (US$6.4million), Belgium (US$6.2 million), Japan (US$5 million), Norway (US$3 million), Switzerland (US$ 2.5 million), Germany (US$1.1 million), Greece (US$615,000), Luxembourg (US$506,000), Republic of Korea (US$500,000), Spain (US$455,000), Finland (US$433,000) and Poland (US$200,000).