ONLY PEACE CAN PUT AN END TO FOOD CRISIS IN DRC, WARNS WFP'S TOP OFFICIAL
NAIROBI/KINSHASA Severe food shortages and malnutrition will continue to plague hundreds of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo unless insecurity comes to an end, warned Sheila Sisulu, the Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme.
"Efforts to provide humanitarian assistance are routinely hampered by the activities of armed militias in many areas," said Sisulu. "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."
"The DRC is rich and fertile, we would not need to provide much relief food if there was no conflict in the country. Peace and progress in the DRC would benefit the whole region."
Ms Sisulu was speaking in Kinshasa at the end of a six-day visit to the DRC, during which she travelled to the war-ravaged east to see first-hand the desperate plight of thousands of internally displaced people, most of whom are women and children.
At least 3.4 million people have been internally displaced as a result of the conflict in the DRC, a country in which 73 percent of the total population are undernourished. Many of the worst affected are in the most inaccessible regions, where roads are frequently impassable and security uncertain.
The most shocking reality is the widespread sexual violence against women. WFP is providing food to the few clinics that are able to offer the medical and psychological support required by traumatised women.
Comprehensive statistics on the number of rape victims are not available. However, between March and June last year 5,000 cases of rape were registered. Such figures are considered only the tip of the iceberg as many thousands more cases are known to go unreported.
"It is inhuman what these women have been through," said Sisulu. "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."
It is not just women in the east who desperately require assistance - the needs of their children are equally urgent. WFP is assisting projects helping to demobilise and reintegrate the estimated 30,000 child soldiers enrolled with armed factions in the country. It also supports government efforts in the struggle against HIV/AIDS by supplying food to some 10,000 people infected with the disease.
Sisulu also announced the launch of WFP's school feeding programme 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 gain a primary education.
Some two million people are currently benefiting from WFP's programmes in the DRC, at a total cost of some US$196 million.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.
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Archive photos of women victims of rape are available from:
WFP photo unit, Rome