The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has begun an emergency operation to airlift food to some 6,750 people in Kindu, the capital of Maniema Province, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the agency announced on Friday.
During the operation, funded by the US government, WFP is planning to deliver more than 200 mt of food aid. This is the first time that WFP is intervening to assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kindu, where precarious food security is a source of great concern to humanitarian organisations.
WFP said that near incessant fighting in eastern DRC had destroyed much of the region's infrastructure, rendering large areas completely inaccessible. Air transport, though costly, is the only viable means of delivering food to the displaced.
WFP reported that malnutrition rates were very high in the region, because the population - mostly peasant farmers - had been unable to access their fields for about three years. The agency added that following the withdrawal of Rwandan troops from the region, people in Maniema Province had been emerging from their hiding places in the forest and converging on Kindu, only to find that there was no food for them there.
WFP said that its implementing partner in Kindu, the British NGO Merlin, also planned to airlift 179.4 mt of food to cover the needs for three months of more than 5,000 malnourished children and malnourished pregnant and lactating mothers at therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres the organisation planned to open.
The Kindu special airlift is WFP's second such operation since the beginning of 2003 to deliver food to IDPs in the eastern DRC. An initial, month-long, special operation to airlift 892 mt of food to IDPs in the northeastern city of Bunia ended on 12 February. During the Bunia special operation, more than 107,000 IDPs, most of whom were women and children, received WFP emergency food assistance comprising maize flour, pulses, beans and vegetable oil.
WFP said it was currently targeting around 1.5 million IDPs throughout the DRC, whose living conditions and nutritional status were extremely insecure. A further special airlift operation to deliver about 102 mt of food to Kasongo and the surrounding area in southeastern DRC is also being planned.
However, WFP cautioned, there were still significant numbers of people within the country whom WFP had been unable to reach because of prevailing insecurity. The agency said it would be appealing for further resources to assist these people once they had been reached and identified.
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