The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing the world’s second-biggest hunger crisis after Yemen, with 13 million people food insecure, five million of whom are acutely malnourished children, the World Food Program (WFP) revealed on Tuesday.
WFP Geneva spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said at a UN briefing here that the program is scaling up “an already sizeable relief operation” for conflict-displaced people in north-eastern DRC.
The action follows renewed inter-ethnic violence that has forced tens of thousands more from their homes.
He said that in Ebola-afflicted Ituri province there has been a spike in clashes between ethnic groups that has claimed at least 160 lives in recent weeks.
“WFP intends to triple its life-saving food and cash assistance to 300,000 internally displaced people- up from the 116,000 WFP has been assisting each month as part of its ongoing relief operations in Ituri,” said Verhoosel.
“This senseless cruelty comes right at harvest time, where the newly displaced have had to flee their homes in rural villages with very little or nothing,” he said.
Many victims of this increase in violence are malnourished and have been forced to move numerous times, and they are seeking security in urban centers and in the bush, said the WFP.
Verhoosel said the crisis is compounded by in that Ituri is one of two DRC provinces in the grip of the country’s worst ever Ebola outbreak, which to date has claimed more than 1,400 lives.
WFP said it helps contain the spread of the virus by providing food assistance to those who have contracted the disease and to “contacts,” thereby limiting risky population movements.
Recent assessments show that hunger is worsening in Ituri, especially in areas that have suffered inter-ethnic conflict in recent years, said the WFP. Verhoosel said,
“A staggering 5 million Congolese children suffer from acute malnutrition. We risk losing an entire generation if we don’t reverse stunting, a form of malnutrition affecting half of DRC’s children.”
He said the recent, dramatic increase in hunger and malnutrition is due to spreading conflict, displacement, high food prices, lack of earning opportunities, un-diversified diets, pest infestations and health epidemics.