World Vision International on Wednesday began what it described as "the largest delivery of food aid ever to be shipped" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The NGO is shipping 626.4 mt of food aid, along the River Congo, to be distributed to 67,000 people in Ankoro, a town in the northern part of Katanga Province in southeastern DRC.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, World Vision said the 13-ship convoy was expected to cover approximately 900 km in seven days. "The food will be transported by rail from Lubumbashi to Bukama, [from] where it will then be shipped for three days via the Congo river to Ankoro," it said.
The rations to be distributed comprise maize, oil and salt. World Vision said thousands of people in Ankoro had been "in urgent need" of food aid ever since December 2002. Of the 67,000 needy, 44,000 were internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had fled fighting in other parts of the country.
World Vision said Ankoro, about 600 km north of Lubumbashi, was difficult to access overland. "The main road leading to the town was washed away during the rainy season. Shipping the food aid to Ankoro has been the only option, but by far the most difficult. The unprecedented river voyage faces huge logistical problems due to the scale of the delivery and the territory to be navigated. Several delays have already occurred. The convoy will also have to pass through rebel-controlled territory to reach Ankoro."
World Vision went on to say that "thousands of people's hopes" rested upon this delivery of food, because its food distribution intended for October 2002 had been delayed by conflict, which broke out in Ankoro that year. "The November conflict caused people to flee into the surrounding bush, where they were forced to scavenge on anything they could find," it reported. "Over 3,000 homes were burned down and an estimated 100 people were killed during the conflict."
World Vision had initially targeted 44,000 IDPs and 8,000 malnourished children in Ankoro, but since the fighting broke out, "a war-affected programme" was put in place to target the all the town’s 67 000 people. "More people are vulnerable to hunger in Ankoro now, as food that was stored after the harvest was looted by raiding soldiers," World Vision said.
It said fields had been totally destroyed, leaving people with no seeds to plant just as the rainy season was beginning. Health conditions in Ankoro were also "very poor", with about 40 percent of the residents malnourished. "Most people only eat one meal a day - if they can find food," it noted.
World Vision said that if the convoy succeeded in delivering the food, the next shipment would consist of non-food items such as clothing, building materials and medical supplies. "More people are flocking into Ankoro town as news of the distribution spreads. Thousands of people are expected to gather at the docks to greet the convoy," it said.
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