Only Peace Can End Food Crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, World Food Programme Official Says

by IRIN

(Nairobi, March 13, 2004) Severe food shortages and malnutrition will continue to plague hundreds of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) unless insecurity comes to an end, the deputy executive director of the UN World Food Program (WFP), Sheila Sisulu, said on Friday.

“Efforts to provide humanitarian assistance are routinely hampered by the activities of armed militias in many areas,” she said. “We have been heartened by the recent positive political developments and call on all groups to lay down their arms and give peace a chance.”

She was speaking in Kinshasa, the capital, at the end of a six-day visit to the DRC, during which she traveled to the war-ravaged east to see first-hand the plight of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of whom are women and children.

“The DRC is rich and fertile, we would not need to provide much relief food if there was no conflict in the country,” she said. “Peace and progress in the DRC would benefit the whole region.”

According to WFP, at least 3.4 million people have been internally displaced by conflict in the country, in which 73 percent of the total population is undernourished. Many of the worst affected are in the most inaccessible regions, where roads are frequently impassable and security uncertain.

Sisulu said the most shocking reality she encountered was the widespread sexual violence against women.

“It is inhuman what these women have been through,” she said. “I’m deeply disturbed by their accounts. We ignore the mothers of the next generation at our peril. Our first priority is to save lives but we must also help people put their lives back together. There is no better place to start than with the mothers of the nation.”

Although comprehensive statistics on the number of rape victims are unavailable, WFP reported that between March and June 2003, some 5,000 cases of rape were registered. However, it added that such figures were “only the tip of the iceberg” as many thousands more cases went unreported.

WFP said it was providing food to the few clinics able to offer medical and psychological support required by traumatized women.

Furthermore, the agency said the needs of children were equally urgent and, to this end, it was assisting projects helping to demobilize and reintegrate the estimated 30,000 child soldiers enrolled with armed factions in the country.

In Kinshasa, Sisulu announced the launch of WFP’s school feeding program in the DRC, as part of a worldwide initiative through which children are provided with a lunchtime meal in order to encourage them to attend school and complete their primary education.

WFP said it was also supporting government efforts in the struggle against HIV/AIDS by supplying food to some 10,000 people infected with the disease.

WFP reported that some two million people were benefiting from its programs in the DRC, at a total cost of about US $196 million.

IRIN is a United Nations humanitarian information unit. This article may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All materials in this article copyright by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004. This article first appeared on IRIN

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