CHRISTMAS IN DR CONGO: FOOD CUTS IMMINENT DUE TO FUNDING CRISIS
KINSHASA - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today that unless it received new funds by New Year for the Democratic Republic of Congo, it would be forced to cut by 30 percent the number of people provided with life-saving food aid and reduce the remaining beneficiaries' food rations by half.
"It's horribly sad that as families in Paris, Washington and London are feasting and exchanging gifts, we will be cutting food rations," said Felix Bamezon, WFP Country Director in DRC.
"In the coming year, WFP had hoped to assist between 650,000 and 750,000 people on a monthly basis, but unless we get at least US$10 million in fresh donations by the end of December, we will be forced to take the drastic step of cutting several hundred thousand recipients and reducing the size of portions we distribute," he added.
Five years of deadly conflict have destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in DR Congo and greatly weakened their survival mechanisms; many have already been forced to sell off their belongings. Without food aid, a sharp rise in malnutrition rates is expected.
According to the International Rescue Committee (a non-governmental organization) a mortality survey published last week showed more than 31,000 civilians were dying monthly in DRC as a result of conflict and more than 3.8 million people (equivalent to one third of Belgium's population) had died since the start of the war in August 1998.
Despite an official end to the civil war a year ago, many Congolese in remote parts of eastern DR Congo still suffer at the hands of armed factions. Unrestrained gunmen regularly burn villages forcing inhabitants to flee; the use of sexual violence against women and girls as a weapon of war is all too common.
The UN Organization Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) said last week that it had found evidence of hostilities by "an armed, organized but unknown military presence" in the east. It said most of the evidence pointing to the presence of several hundred armed soldiers was concentrated in the triangle formed by Goma, Walikale and the south bank of Lake Edward and included burned villages and freshly evacuated bivouacs.
In a new effort to reach those in need, at the beginning of December WFP launched a humanitarian air passenger service with two planes - one based in Kinshasa, the other in Goma - for an initial nine months. This special operation will be partially funded by those who use it, but US$2.9 million are needed from donor contributions.
In addition to the air service, WFP contributed to the resumption last month of railway traffic on the Kisangani-Ubundi line in the province of Oriental through food for work activities. The two port cities used to be highly productive before falling into disuse. With the renewed access, humanitarian activities for WFP and other agencies are expanding to reach more than 100,000 vulnerable people - up from 50,000.
"Reaching targeted beneficiaries in this country is an enormous challenge. Its size - four times that of France - compounded by the lack of infrastructure requires a lot of logistical acrobatics," said Bamezon. "WFP is doing everything possible, but we need more support from the international community."
Through 13 field offices in 10 out of the 11 provinces of DR Congo, WFP aims to reach a total of 1.6 million people, the bulk of whom are displaced. In addition, WFP assists Angolan refugees in the southern provinces and a large number of returnees from neighbouring countries.
Of the total US$160 million required for the two-year operation that began in January 2004, WFP has received only US$45 million to date, representing just 27 percent of the needs.
Donors are the United States (US$25 million), European Community (US$6 million), Canada (US$2.7 million), Belgium (US$2.3 million), Finland (US$1.4 million), Germany (US$1.2 million), France (US$1.2 million), Italy (US$1.1 million), the Netherlands (US$1.1 million), Ireland (US$453,000), Norway (US$328,000), Japan (US$65,000), and New Zealand (US$54,000).
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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