DR Congo

WFP to assist demobilized combatants in DR Congo

KINSHASA - To help bring peace to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today announced that it will extend a vital operation to provide food rations to demobilized combatants and their families, as well as meeting the continuing needs of newly displaced people in the east.
The life-saving food aid operation, which was due to expire in December 2005, will now run through June 2006 at a total cost of US$191 million -- US$30 million more than the initial two-year relief operation.

"We are at a critical moment in the peace process, one that the international community cannot afford to ignore," said WFP's Country Director in DR Congo, Felix Bamezon.

"As part of the transition, tens of thousands of ex-combatants will be demobilized in the coming months. They face the daunting task of trying to reintegrate into civilian life, with little or no means initially of supporting themselves or their loved ones. WFP food assistance will buy them time to get back on their feet," he added.

During the second half of 2005, some 60,000 former army and militia combatants and their families, representing approximately 300,000 Congolese, will receive a one month ration consisting of maize meal, beans, vegetable oil and salt. An additional 90,000 demobilized men and their families - equivalent to 450,000 people - will be assisted from January until June 2006.

In addition to extending its programme to assist demobilised soldiers, WFP will expand operations to continue support of hundreds of thousands of Congolese who have been displaced or have had their livelihoods destroyed by their country's decades-long conflict. Most rely on food assistance for survival.

Insecurity in eastern DR Congo remains a major obstacle to humanitarian assistance, with many areas off limits to aid agencies like WFP. There are increasing numbers of former militia who instead of opting for reintegration into the Congolese army or demobilisation, prefer to join gangs of bandits who continue to prey on civilians, pillaging villages, burning homes and farmland, and raping, murdering and abducting innocent men and women.

"The continued insecurity has had a catastrophic impact on food availability in what would, in peaceful times, be a breadbasket for this country. Fields are being looted by roaming militia and many farmers are simply too afraid to tend their land," said Bamezon.

In 2005 and 2006, WFP food assistance will be provided to some 175,000 displaced Congolese, as well as nearly 400,000 Congolese refugees who have returned to their homeland. The agency will also continue to support 22,500 former child soldiers who attend specialized demobilization programmes in an effort to reintegrate into society.

The revised relief operation will also assist more than 350,000 malnourished children and pregnant and nursing mothers and almost 200,000 other vulnerable people. WFP will provide meals to 678,000 people through HIV/AIDS, food for work, food for training and school feeding programmes.

While the operation is currently 53 percent funded, with US$100 million received to date, the logistical challenge of supplying food to over 300 implementing partners in DR Congo's various provinces remains immense.

In the east, food consignments have to be moved from distant Indian Ocean ports, while in the west, barges and rail wagons carrying food aid must be dispatched to the northern areas of the country.

"Continued strong support by the international community here is critical, not only to ensure the steady flow of food, but also to ensure an adequate buffer stock in the region which could be tapped to respond to sudden, unexpected increases in people in need as a result of conflict, like we saw in the Ituri region earlier this year," said Bamezon.

Recent donors to WFP's operations in DR Congo include Germany (US$3.7 million), USA (US$3 million) and Canada (US$2.9 million).

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 56 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People.

Visit our website: www.wfp.org

For more information please contact:

Aline Samu, WFP Kinshasa, Mob. +254 (0) 81 700 6714

Rene McGuffin, WFP Nairobi, +254 20 622 594, Mob. +254-735-333318

Simon Pluess, WFP Geneva, +41 22 917 8581, Mob. +41-797743821

Chris Endean, WFP Rome +39 06 6513 2108, Mob +39-348-155 7630