Monday, July 21, 2008

Congo Violence Brings Starvation

Peace accords were signed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in January this year, but violence continues to destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The UN World Food Program (WFP) warned in July that the agency’s resources were being stretched beyond its capability by refugees forced from their homes by the ongoing guerilla action.

North Kivu province has been particularly hard hit, with at least 100,000 people forced from their homes in Rutshuru district alone, bringing the total displaced in the province since March 2007 to over half a million. Impromptu refugee camps spring up overnight, mostly without supplies or assistance..

The WFP reports it has already cut rations in half to some displaced people camped close to the provincial capital Goma, in an effort to stretch supplies for those in most desperate need at the heart of the mountainous hinterland. The organization says it needs to distribute 10,000 tons of food per month, a gargantuan task given the tinderbox nature of the region, extremely limited transportation infrastructure, and world food prices.

Many of the refugees are farmers in the region’s breadbasket. Their displacement has caused food prices to spike in urban areas that rely on the hinderlands for their food supply.

Malnutrition threatens the lives of thousands of children. The WFP says their surveys in the Masasi and Rutshuru districts show rates for acute malnutrition of over 17 percent.

Complicating the situation is the continual harassment by armed groups that live off the countryside by looting household food supplies, steal or destroy farm equipment, and rape or kidnap women trying to cultivate their fields. Many of the displaced families have now missed three successive planting seasons.

The WFP says it plans to spend US$142 million for its operations in the eastern DRC during the next year. The United States ($62 million), European Commission ($25 million), UN CERF ($16 million), France ($8.7 million), Canada ($6.4 million), Belgium ($6.2 million), Japan ($5 million), Norway ($3 million), Switzerland ($ 2.5 million), and Germany ($1.1 million) have stepped up to the plate, along with Greece, Luxembourg, Korea, Spain, Finland, and Poland.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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