WFP Responds As Violence In Eastern DRC Forces Thousands To Flee
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Published on 28 June 2012

To address the immediate needs of recently displaced people, WFP is distributing ready-to-eat high energy biscuits. Copyright: WFP/Fabienne Pompey

The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo is experiencing a new wave of violence that has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in North and South Kivu, Orientale province, and in the north of Katanga. As of mid-June, at least 400,000 people were displaced in the eastern part of DRC alone. Thousands more have sought refuge in Rwanda and Uganda. 

The roots of the conflict are complex but there can be no doubting the impact of several years of fighting involving armed militias and the DRC’s national army. 

Civilians bear the brunt of the conflict. Traumatized by years of violence and human rights abuses, villagers often flee as soon as they hear the first shot fired. Some flee for a few hours or a few days, while others walk for days to take refuge in camps or with host families living in safe areas. Congolese also make the trek across the Rwandan or Ugandan borders in search of security. 

According to OCHA, more than two million people are internally displaced in the DRC. In South and North Kivu, close to 280,000 people are currently receiving food assistance from WFP. Another 75,000 displaced people get assistance from WFP in Katanga as well as 10,000 in Ituri.

“The current displacements are taking place at the beginning of the harvest season, and if people relocate away from their fields, they are then unable to farm,” explains WFP country director, Martin Olhsen. “They risk losing their only source of food and income. The displaced are not only among the poorest of the poor and in need of food assistance, their displacement will also have an impact on the long-term food security of the region.”

WFP is concerned that continued violence will push more people into hunger in the coming months and, along with other UN agencies and partners, is providing humanitarian assistance to IDPs under difficult conditions and in the face of widespread insecurity and limited roads infrastructures. 

To address the immediate food needs of recently displaced people, WFP is distributing ready-to-eat high energy biscuits. The biscuits, which are used for three to 15 days can, if preferred, be broken up and eaten as porridge. They are suitable for young children, the sick and the elderly. WFP is also doing general food distributions of maize meal, cooking oil, pulses and salt.

In addition, WFP is providing food assistance through cash and vouchers in areas where local markets are functioning and can absorb additional demand. With this innovative tool, Congolese people displaced by conflict have more choices and can participate in the recovery of the local economy. Local traders and producers also benefit from this initiative. Preparations are currently being made to expand the cash and vouchers programme.

“Cash and vouchers provide much more than life saving food assistance”, says Martin Ohlsen. “It’s also about dignity and empowerment. Beneficiaries have the power to choose what they want to eat, they are treated just like any other customers by local traders, and they become part of the local economy”.

WFP’s operations to assist people displaced by conflict in the eastern DRC now face a funding shortfall of some US$43 million. Over the next nine months, they could require still more funding to meet the needs of the growing number of internally displaced people. 

WFP is assisting more than 3.5 million people in the DRC including 1.2 million children through its school meals programme as well as  vulnerable displaced people, malnourished children, pregnant and nursing  women, and people living with HIV or TB.