Visiting WFP chief warns of impending humanitarian disaster in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region (31.10.2017)
WFP is ramping up emergency assistance there, planning to reach 500,000 of the most vulnerable by end-December, and many more early next year.
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 31, 2017 – A humanitarian catastrophe is looming in the conflict-ravaged south-central Greater Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the head of the United Nations World Food Programme warned yesterday as he wrapped up a four-day mission to the central African country that included a visit to Kasai. Some 3.2 million people in the region are severely food insecure, struggling to feed themselves and in need of assistance.
“As many as 700,000 babies and children could starve in Kasai in the next few months unless enough nutritious food reaches them quickly”, David Beasley said. “We need access to those children, and we need money – urgently.”
Kasai’s traditionally high rates of malnutrition were pushed higher following the eruption last year of inter-ethnic violence characterised by large-scale killing, the wholesale destruction of villages and crops, and the targeting of hospitals, clinics and schools. The region now accounts for more than 40 percent of the DRC’s 7.7 million severely food insecure.
WFP is ramping up emergency assistance there, planning to reach 500,000 of the most vulnerable by end-December, and many more early next year. Dozens more staff are being deployed, an additional 80 off-road trucks are being brought in to deliver food to remote areas, and the WFP-run United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), presently flying aid supplies and aid workers to seven locations in the region, is being expanded.
But WFP’s emergency operation, launched in August, has so far been financed by internal borrowings, and only one percent of the US$135 million required through mid-2018 has been secured from the international community.
While the violence in Kasai has diminished in recent weeks, banditry and extortion are commonplace. Moreover, in a region the size of Germany with multiple active militias and a road network that is largely impassable during the September-December rainy season, humanitarian access is set to remain a challenge.
WFP’s work in eastern North Kivu province, also witnessed by Beasley, is likewise constrained by access challenges and limited funding. Just 250,000 of the province’s one million displaced people – victims of two decades of conflict – are receiving assistance, and only half rations.
Much of DRC’s population is dependent on subsistence farming, and competition for land is often at the heart of its violence. Many conflict-displaced families who had returned to their villages in North Kivu and Kasai told Beasley they could not resume working their fields, such was their fear still of being attacked.
“I have met too many women and children whose lives have been reduced to a desperate struggle for survival”, Beasley said. “In a land so rich in resources, that’s heart-breaking. And it’s unacceptable.”
Beasley acknowledged donor concerns about limited return on investments in a better future for the Congolese people, noting that some governments have threatened to redirect such funding to countries where they say it will have more impact.
“I hear those concerns”, Beasley said. “But let’s not hold innocent women and children responsible for the failings of others.”
“What the brave people I met over the last few days want most of all is peace – peace to be able to grow their own food, to rebuild their lives and to build a brighter tomorrow for their children. It’s a simple, powerful message, and I have conveyed it to President Kabila, urging that he do his part to bring about much-needed change.”