Great Lakes
Great Lakes conflicts produce exceptional food emergency

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afrol News, 10 April - Food assistance will still be needed for millions of people in the Great Lakes region in 2001, a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization concludes. Congo Kinshasa (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi are to experience an "exceptional food emergency" in 2001, mainly due to displacements and war.

The report calls the food outlook in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) "bleak" and says that food assistance is still needed elsewhere in the Great Lakes, including Burundi and Rwanda. The DRC has some 2 million internally displaced people and additional 333,000 refugees, mainly from Angola. The number continues to rise as fighting flares up in both countries, with serious nutritional and health consequences. The three countries also need sustained assistance to rehabilitate their agricultural sectors following prolonged civil strife. 

In Congo Kinshasa, the food problems have been further aggravated by the outbreak and spread of cassava mosaic virus, which has seriously affected the staple crop, particularly in eastern parts of the country. The food situation is also extremely tight in urban areas, mainly Kinshasa, where the number of vulnerable people has increased, according to the report. 

The food supply situation in Congo continues to deteriorate due to persistent insecurity. Intensified fighting, particularly in eastern parts, has further disrupted all economic and agricultural activities and resulted in fresh waves of population displacements. 

Recent surveys conducted by non-governmental organisations indicated that up to 21 percent of the population is suffering from severe malnutrition in the eastern province of North-Kivu. The situation could deteriorate with an expected cassava crop failure in eastern parts due to pests and diseases. 

An FAO Mission last October estimated Kinshasa's food deficit in 2000 at 1 million tonnes. In general, factors constraining food supply to Kinshasa and other cities include the extreme state of disrepair of the road infrastructure; police/military harassment of shippers, traders and farmers; the cut-off of food supply from Equateur and Eastern Provinces; and the scarcity of fuel due to a shortage of foreign exchange. Distribution of humanitarian assistance remains constrained by persistent insecurity and very poor road conditions, FAO reports.

In Rwanda, new assessments indicate that the 2001 harvest will be at around or slightly lower than the good level of last year. Despite a delay to the start of the rainy season, precipitation was abundant and well distributed from mid-October to December. Although excessive rains in November resulted in floods and crop losses in parts, they generally benefited plantings and yields, particularly of cereals and pulses.

The tight food supply situation has eased with the new harvest, FAO assesses. Prices of maize, beans and Irish potatoes have decreased from their levels of a year ago. However, despite the overall improvement in the food situation, emergency food assistance is anticipated to be needed until the next harvest for people in the Bugesera region, particularly in Kanzenze and Gashora districts. WFP plans to distribute 13 000 tonnes of emergency food assistance for three months to 267,000 drought-affected people in southeast Rwanda. 

Also in Burundi, the 2001 harvest is estimated to be satisfactory. A recent locally-organized assessment mission estimated food production at 85 000 tonnes of cereals, 68 000 tonnes of pulses, 483 000 tonnes of roots and tubers and 465 000 tonnes of bananas and plantains, which is between 1 and 15 percent higher than in the 2000 season. 

However, outputs remain below the pre-crisis (1988-1993) average levels, due to insecurity and disruption of agricultural production since 1994. The area planted increased significantly this season reflecting relatively a better security situation in western parts, which allowed farmers to return to their fields. The other factor which contributed to higher plantings this season was the timely seed distributions by the Government and international agencies. 

Despite a late start of the rainy season, precipitation was abundant and well distributed from October to November benefiting crop development. However, excessive rains in parts resulted in floods and crop losses and, in general, reduced yields, particularly for beans. 

According to the FAO study, the tight food situation has eased with the arrival of the new harvest. Nevertheless, following several consecutive below average harvests, persistent insecurity and population displacements, as well as a recent malaria epidemic, the food and nutrition situation of vulnerable groups remains precarious. 

In particular, the situation is difficult for 324,000 internally displaced people and for drought affected persons in the provinces of Karuzi, Gitega, Kayanza and Muyinga. A recent nutritional survey in 7 provinces of the country indicated a 10 percent rate of acute global malnutrition. Similarly, a recent report by MSF indicated that the number of malnourished children admitted to its therapeutic feeding centres in Karuzi province had doubled in January 2001. Emergency food aid continues to be necessary for the vulnerable sections of the population.

Sources: Based on FAO Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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