UN agencies intensify relief efforts in violence-wracked Congo

UN agencies intensify relief efforts in violence-wracked Congo

Rome, Dec 21 (IANS/AKI) The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme on Wednesday said that they are teaming up to aid victims in the Greater Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a brutal conflict is causing immense human suffering.

FAO and WFP will be using $10 million of Belgian government funding to improve access to food for more than 100,000 people in Greater Kasai, where some 18,000 households including displaced, returnee and host families stand to benefit.

"Thanks to this significant contribution, we are able to ramp up our efforts and work closely together to prevent people, including young children, from dying of hunger and malnutrition," said FAO representative ad interim Alexis Bonte.

The aid "will only protect vulnerable people, but help revive agricultural production and boost social cohesion in communities affected by the crisis," added Claude Jibidar, WFP's country representative in DRC.

Under the project, WFP will distribute fortified maize meal, legumes, fortified vegetable oil and iodized salt - as well as cash to victims of the crisis. Children aged 6 to 59 months, and pregnant and breastfeeding women, will be treated for three months with special nutritious supplements.

For its part, FAO will supply vegetable-growing kits - hoe, rake, spade, watering can, and vegetable and fruit seeds - that will allow each family to eat for two months and sell what they don't eat.

Refugees will be trained in raising guinea pigs as a source of protein; and in processing and marketing bamboo to use as firewood, kitchen utensils, baskets, canoes, fishing equipment and fences. Vegetable gardens near health centres and women's associations will meanwhile provide malnourished children, and pregnant and nursing women, with micronutrients such as iron and zinc, FAO and WFP said.

The joint initiative will be rolled out in partnership with the DRC's Agriculture Ministry and local NGOs, the agencies stated, warning that "as welcome as they are," the measures cannot meet anything like the full extent of humanitarian needs.

The conflict in Kasai, an anti-government stronghold that formerly was a maize-producing region, has forced a million people out of their homes and off their land. Some 3.2 million are now severely hungry and child malnutrition is widespread, according to the UN.

About 400,000 children in Kasai risk starvation in the next couple of months if emergency food is not delivered.

FAO and WFP urged nations to significantly increase funding as well as efforts to bring peace and security to DRC to allow the Congolese to rebuild their livelihoods and secure a more prosperous future.

Over 1.7 million people have fled their homes so far this year in DRC due to insecurity, according to the UN � an average of over 5,500 people per day - bringing the total number of refugees to over four million and making it the world's worst refugee crisis.

Earlier this month the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre - part of the Norwegian Refugee Council said the scale of people fleeing violence in DCR was "off the charts, outpacing Syria, Yemen and Iraq".

Kasai, Kivu and Tanganyika provinces, are the current epicentres of the conflict.

--IANS/AKI

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