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DRC: UN Says Food Supplies Stretched To Limit

DR Congo: United Nations says food supplies stretched to limit as thousands flee fighting

16 July 2008 - Violence and intimidation in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has forced at least 100,000 people to flee their homes in recent months, raising the number of displaced to more than half a million, and leaving the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) struggling to meet their needs.

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 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."

In July last year, WFP planned to distribute 800 tons of food per month, but the new displacements have forced the agency to scale up its planned deliveries to 10,000 tons per month.

Despite a peace agreement signed in January this year, WFP says that North Kivu province remains "a tinderbox of intimidation and violence." New camps for displaced people have sprung up almost overnight, many of them lacking the most basic facilities, including clean water and proper shelter.

Malnutrition is now running at alarming levels, threatening the lives of thousands of young children, according to the UN agency. Across Masisi and Rutshuru, surveys indicate rates for acute malnutrition of over 17 per cent - above the rate considered to constitute an emergency. WFP says it is working with specialised non-governmental organizations (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. WFP staff who have visited the worst affected areas in the Birambizo area of Rutshuru have heard terrifying testimony from people who have fled attacks and looting 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.

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.

WFP says it requires $142 million to cover its operations in eastern DRC over the next 12 months.

ENDS

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