Millions of lives could be lost unless nations offer more help to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic are stoking one of the world’s worst hunger crises, the United Nations World Food Programme warned on Friday.
“So many Congolese are on the edge, and in even greater danger now of being tipped over the edge”, said Claude Jibidar, WFP’s Representative in DRC.
“The world just can’t let that happen, worried though it understandably is about the huge toll COVID-19 is taking on lives and livelihoods elsewhere”.
Four in ten of DRC’s estimated 100 million people are short of food, according to the most recent nationwide data, with 15.6 million suffering “crisis” or “emergency” hunger.
But without a further US$172 million, WFP said it will have to scale back its emergency operation in DRC over the next six months, including food and cash assistance.
The 3.4 million Congolese children suffering from acute malnutrition are at immediate risk of cuts to WFP's operations, the UN agency warned. It is seeking the extra funding to support 8.6 million people in DRC this year - including almost a million of those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic – up from a record 6.9 million reached in 2019.
Malnutrition is particularly pervasive in conflict-ravaged, mineral-rich eastern DRC, where decades of brutal ethnic fighting has forced millions of civilians from their homes – many of them numerous times.
Violence there in the region in the first half of 2020 this year – some of it allegedly amounting to war crimes – uprooted over a million people.
Most of the more than five million Congolese who have fled from one part of the country to another live in makeshift camps and urban areas with poor sanitation and healthcare, making the displaced especially susceptible to COVID-19.
WFP provides food or cash to many of these people, who are also at risk from other killer diseases such as malaria and cholera.
By the time the country’s tenth and biggest Ebola epidemic ended in June, after killing almost 2,300 lives in the east over two years eleventh had erupted in the northwest, and continues to spread, WFP said.
The central Kasai region is the epicentre of a largescale outbreak of measles, which significantly increases the risk of death among malnourished children, WFP noted.
This year’s harvest is again expected to be below-average in much of DRC because of drought, flooding and pest infestations, as well as farmers’ limited access to their fields owing to conflict and COVID-19 movement restrictions.
Yet the fertile DRC has the potential to produce more than enough food for its people, possessing some 80 million hectares of arable land – the second most in the world after Brazil – and half of Africa’s water resources, the statement noted.