DR Congo

Child malnutrition soaring in eastern DR Congo, warns World Vision

- Relief agency seeing ten-fold increase in malnutrition at clinic inside rebel-held territory

- Widespread hunger, food insecurity plague displaced families across conflict-affected region

- End "cycle of war," or more children will face malnutrition and death, agency warns

Goma, Eastern DRC, November 18, 2008: The number of children suffering from severe malnutrition in eastern Congo is rising dramatically as a result of the increased conflict, warns humanitarian agency World Vision. In one hard-hit area, World Vision estimates the number of children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition has increased ten-fold.

Before the conflict, nutrition experts were admitting one or two malnourished children per day at the World Vision nutrition center in Rwanguba, east of Rutshuru. Since fighting devastated the rebel-held territory near Rutshuru, between eight and ten children have been arriving every day.

"The cause of malnutrition used to be poverty," said Suzanne Kahamba, a local nurse working at the clinic. "But now so many people are displaced, they don't have land to grow crops. The conflict has intensified the effects of poverty ten times over and the situation has become dire."

This week, World Vision's emergency team was able to deliver therapeutic food for children at the clinic, after fighting in the area had cut the center off from aid for nearly three weeks. The nutrition center provides intensive care to young children suffering from severe malnutrition. Most of the children coming for assistance have been displaced from their homes, some multiple times.

The Rwanguba center is one of four treatment centers across North Kivu that focus on fighting disease while also helping children to slowly resume normal eating patterns. The ready-to-use therapeutic food for children, known as Plumpynut, allows families to feed their children at home rather than live at the nutrition centers for as long as a month.

"We have had no supplies at the center for one week," said Kahamba. "This morning we had 53 children in need of treatment, but we had nothing to give them."

With the fresh delivery of Plumpynut and food, the center is able to treat 40 children for two weeks. World Vision will also be providing more than 100 tons of food to communities over six months, including beans and maize to almost 4,500 people.

Apart from treatment of malnutrition, World Vision also trains local health workers and parents on prevention of malnutrition and disease. With support from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, parents are also receiving tools and seeds to help the growth of nutritional crops.

"We are fighting malnutrition every day here," said Kahamba. "But I fully believe that if there is peace, we can close the center. People will be able to go home, farm their land and look after their families."

"North Kivu province used to supply a large proportion of the country's food," said Constance Smith, World Vision's health and nutrition manager in the DRC. "Now people here are foraging for any food they can find. When there is a severe lack of food as there is now, it is always children who suffer the most."

To help affected communities gain more secure sources of food, World Vision is also providing egg-laying hens and fruit trees to families in Goma, and plans to distribute seeds and tools to 600 households in Shasha IDP camp so they can plant their own crops close to the camp.

Meanwhile, World Vision is warning that the number of malnourished children will continue to rise if all warring factions and the international community do not commit to finding a peaceful solution the crisis.

"I have seen this conflict become a cycle," said Kahamba. "We manage to lower the malnutrition rates and then the war comes again. The cycle of war must stop."

Donations are urgently needed for World Vision's response in eastern Congo. The public can help by visiting www.worldvision.org or calling 1.888.56.CHILD.

Press Contacts:

Anna Ridout in Goma at +243 998769821 and Kristy Allen-Shirley in Johannesburg at +260-97-877-0392 or +27-0-711-620-016.

Notes to editors

1. Before the conflict intensified in August, WFP reported that acute malnutrition sits at 19% in North Kivu and 86% of people consume less than three meals per day.

2. To help communities tackle food insecurity, World Vision east DRC is providing egg-laying hens and fruit trees to families in Goma. While in Shasha IDP camp, 600 households will be provided with seeds and tools to plant their own crops close to the camp.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.