DR Congo

Violence stymies WFP in eastern Congo as thousands flee

by Marcus Prior

Nairobi, 28 October 2008 - "It's getting harder and harder to reach the displaced," said World Food Programme Goma logistics chief Peter Schaller across the satellite link from Goma, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo's spectacularly rich, yet spectacularly violent and dangerous North Kivu province.

"The streets outside are much quieter than usual. People are nervous. They are worried about what might happen next," Schaller said.

These are troubled times in eastern Congo. Violent clashes since late August in the hinterland outside the provincial capital may have displaced as many as 200,000 people and have now resulted in temporary no-go zones for humanitarian deliveries.

UN personnel targeted

Meanwhile in the city itself, movement by UN staff and vehicles is strictly limited, following street violence targeting UN property and personnel on Monday.

For the moment, at least, WFP cannot move food to those who need it. As many as 15 trucks are loaded and ready to move just as soon as a window of opportunity presents itself. All being well, that will be very soon, but even a day's delay is a major frustration for Schaller, a man of rich frontline experience with WFP and who knows his job: to deliver.

There are no hard and fast numbers on the displaced at this stage - the main challenge is to get out of Goma and assess the real needs, then to move as swiftly as possible to meet them. Fortunately, WFP was able to deliver a 15-day ration to most of the newly displaced through much of October, but now these people need food again. Many more have received nothing at all.

WFP - like most humanitarian organisations in the area - is stretched to the limit. About 10,000 metric tons of food is needed every month in the Kivus, but this month there is only 4,000 tons in the supply chain. Roads are in terrible shape, and partners to distribute the food are thin on the ground.

Hopes of planting dashed

The new displacement could not come at a worse time. This is planting season in eastern DRC, as the rains fall heavy with the promise of a rich harvest to come. But too many are missing yet another opportunity to fend for themselves and will now be heavily dependent on outside assistance in the months to come.

The main conflict zones are also the region's breadbasket - reduced production will squeeze supply to urban centre, further inflating the already high food prices which are fuelling popular discontent.

To make matters worse, WFP's office further north in Bunia has had to cope with fighting on at least two new fronts in recent weeks and the subsequent displacement of several thousand people. The response has been quick and effective, but has again tested the limits of WFP's resources in the region.

Marcus Prior is WFP's Public Affairs Officer in East and Central Africa.

Fact box - Democratic Republic of Congo

Total number of displaced in North and South Kivu: 1 million (estimated)

Total tonnage required by WFP for the Kivus: 10,000 metric tons