afrol News, 8 May - The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that a humanitarian crisis is surfacing in the northern Katanga province of Congo Kinshasa (DRC) as desperate men, women and children begin arriving in towns in search of help, after years of isolation due to civil conflict.
The WFP reported it was "quickly deploying more emergency staff to various parts of the country to respond to the extreme humanitarian needs. As aid workers gain access to cut-off areas also in North and South Kivu, WFP is prepared to find populations in a similarly grave condition as those seen in northern Katanga."
The agency said it plans to urgently launch an airlift of emergency supplies to a number of isolated locations, where people are in dire need of food. WFP will be appealing to donors to fund the airlift which will be expanded as needs are identified.
However, WFP is facing a major funding crunch, with its current DRC operation to feed 1.4 million people only 30 percent resourced, and US$ 43 million still needed to feed soaring numbers of hungry Congolese until the end of 2001. Food needs have more than doubled this year in DRC.
- We estimate that tens of thousands of people who have been repeatedly displaced by insecurity or have been trapped deep in the bush by armed militias, are extremely hungry and malnourished, while hundreds of thousands more are need of food aid, said Claude Jibidar, WFP Coordinator for Eastern DRC, speaking about Northern Katanga province.
Jibidar, who recently returned from a first-time WFP food delivery to the rebel-held town of Manono, saw throngs of mothers and children, extremely emaciated or bloated from malnutrition and wearing only shreds of clothes. They were congregated on the town’s hospital grounds, anxiously awaiting much-needed relief food. Roughly 23 percent of children under five of Manono’s 25,000 population are malnourished, and 19 percent severely so.
The one tonne of WFP relief food delivered to Manono during Jibidar’s trip aboard a small aircraft began to be immediately distributed to the 200 most malnourished children in the feeding center; this will barely last a week as more and more malnourished people are streaming into Manono. Milk provided by UNICEF was also flown in from Goma.
As the UN peacekeepers (MONUC) take up positions within the DRC, one of the main obstacles currently faced by WFP in feeding people is the lack of air capacity. Over the coming days, WFP would like to urgently deliver some 650 MT of food into areas of northern Katanga which can only be reached by air. Barges are currently pre-positioning the needed food stocks into Kalemie, from where it will be delivered.
- Although humanitarian relief has started to trickle in to a handful of towns in northern Katanga like Manono, widespread insecurity and decimated roads are major obstacles to feeding thousands of more people in dire need, said Jibidar.
A recent assessment mission to another N. Katanga town, Kiambi, by WFP and its partner, Nuova Frontiera (an Italian non-governmental organization), revealed that 11 children under five per 10,000 were dying daily, with fever and malnutrition the cause in one-third of the cases. WFP is trying to reach Kiambi in the coming days should security conditions permit. The malnutrition rates, including severe, are unacceptably high.
- There is a direct correlation between these alarming levels of malnutrition and the multi-layered war which has rendered hundreds of thousands of people without the ability to survive, said Jibidar. "It is shocking to see the numbers of hungry lining up for food in Kalemie and Nyunzu in northern Katanga which used to be the breadbasket of the region, exporting food throughout DRC."
Since December 2000, WFP has been providing food in areas in northern Katanga through Nuova Frontiera which has been opening up and supplying acutely-needed health care and feeding programs as quickly and widely as possible. Through this NGO, WFP is currently feeding some 5,000 people in Kalemie, including 800-900 malnourished children in therapeutic and supplementary feeding programs.
In the town of Nyunzu, which opened up in March, WFP also supplies food to 700 malnourished children. Most recently, the agency has sent food to Manono, where Nuova Frontiera has just re-opened the defunct hospital in the sweltering war-ravaged town, south-west of Kalemie.
- Although many people are coming out of the bush or from their besieged communities, searching for treatment as a few health and nutritional feeding centres re-open, insecurity still persists in northern Katanga which blocks help being available to all, said Jibidar. "Problems will continue despite the arrival of the UN observers who verify the DRC cease-fire in towns such as Manono and Kalemie, because many of the armed groups active in northern Katanga are not party to the agreement, and are in fact filling the vacuum left by the withdrawing state troops."
The food situation for thousands more people in North and South Kivu, such as Shabunda, Lulingu and Kasika remains precarious and urgent assistance is needed, pending safe access. People are reported to be hiding in the forests, from where some slowly emerge, malnourished and almost naked.
WFP’s assistance to Northern Katanga dates back to January 2000, with support to feeding centers run by ACF (Action Contre la Faim) in towns like Moba, and food security programs with FHI (Food for the Hungry). A lack of logistics capacity such as aircraft, and continuous insecurity has prevented assistance from being sent further inland.
Sources: Based on the WFP