Elevated levels of malnutrition prevail in eastern and northern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to a number of recent studies conducted by a variety of UN agencies and NGOs.
In the Kirothse Health Zone, 30 km southwest of Goma, in the eastern province of North Kivu, the global malnutrition rate was found to be 7.9 percent of the zone's approximately 500,000 residents, Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), announced during a mission to the region late last week.
According to Dr Alpha-Jean Asani Akilimani, chief medical officer of the zone, malnutrition in this otherwise lush and fertile region is due to continued insecurity caused by armed groups which, despite the end of war, continue to impose their own laws and prevent the population from freely cultivating their lands.
"Once populations displaced by fighting return to their lands and resume cultivation, armed groups wait until harvest time to pillage everything that has grown," Asani told IRIN.
Furthermore, he added, fleeing populations in search of calmer locations must share already limited food resources with local resident populations.
"The rate of severe malnutrition is 3.4 percent in this zone, while the global malnutrition rate is 7.9 percent," Lucien Matata, a nutritionist in the zone, said.
He attributed the malnutrition to a lack of protein-rich meats in people's diets, as most livestock is brought to large towns to be sold.
"Parents believe they are meeting their families' needs with the money they make, while malnutrition slowly takes hold," Matata said.
In response to this situation, international relief NGO World Vision and WFP have been providing treatment and supplemental food rations. A food security programme covering 12 nutritional centres was put in place, and residents have been trained in raising pigs, turkeys and rabbits for consumption.
Nutritionists in the region say malnutrition has been a problem since 1993, when hostilities erupted.
Meanwhile, in Gemena, in the north of Equateur Province in northwestern DRC, a recent study conducted by the humanitarian affairs section of the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that 44.9 percent of families only ate one meal per day, while 4.6 percent of households consumed less than one meal per day in the localities of Bosobolo and Yakoma, and in the Abuzi sector.
The malnutrition has had particular impact on children.
"Among children aged under five years, a little more than one-third were found to be experiencing stunted growth, while nearly one child in eight was suffering from acute malnutrition and 3 percent from severe malnutrition," the report stated.
The study found that underlying causes of this malnutrition included excessive deforestation, conflict for land due to demographic growth, and decreasing soil fertility owing to intensification of cultivation.
Having fled from insecurity, 12,892 internally displaced persons have been registered in the towns of Gbadolite, Yakoma, Abuzi and Wapinda, all located in Nord Ubangi District, while 14,058 others have been registered in the towns of Bumba, Itimbiri and Monzaboli, all in Mongala District.
"8,230 displaced persons cannot return to their villages because of a lack of housing and clothing," the report stated. "There are some 6,000 persons displaced from Abuzi who are living in camps in the forest who have expressed their strong desire to leave the woods."
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