During the operation, which has been funded entirely by the European Commission, WFP and its implementing partner, German Agro Action (GAA), will deliver 892 MT of food, including maize flour, pulses, beans and vegetable oil, to some 115,000 people, most of whom are women and children. This food will be sufficient to feed the displaced population in Bunia for one month.
"Most of these people are exhausted and extremely hungry by the time they arrive in Bunia," said Felix Bamezon, WFP's Country Director for Democratic Republic of Congo. "Many of them have been travelling on foot for days, without shelter or much rest and when they finally reach safety, they have no means of getting food. It is a desperate situation that calls for desperate measures - like a food airlift."
Fighting between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups in Ituri province has sent large numbers of men, women and children fleeing towards Bunia, where they also joined many thousands of people displaced by factional fighting last October from the towns of Epulu and Mambasa in Orientale province.
Years of war in eastern DRC have destroyed much of the region's infrastructure, ruining roads, wrecking bridges and rendering large areas completely inaccessible. Prevailing insecurity has also stopped WFP from transporting supplies by road to Bunia since August 2002, leaving air transport as the only means of delivering food to the displaced.
A lack of funds and landing clearance from the local authorities prevented WFP from carrying out any relief airlifts until now.
"The start of this operation is a welcome step forward because we will finally be able to assist tens of thousands hungry people," said Bamezon. "But given the high costs of airlifts, delivering food to beneficiaries in this way can only be a short-term solution. In the long term, we need the fighting to stop so we can reach these areas by road."
WFP has chartered a Buffalo plane to deliver the food from Kasese in western Uganda to Bunia. With the plane able to carry eight metric tons of food per trip, the entire operation is likely to last for approximately five weeks. The European Commission donated just over US$430,000 to cover the full costs of the operation.
Along with Bunia, WFP is also planning to airlift food to other parts of eastern Congo including the town of Kindu in Maniema province. An estimated 120,000 displaced people are in need of food relief in Maniema province, 20,000 of whom are in Kindu town. Following the recent withdrawal of Rwandan troops, they emerged from their hiding places in the forest and converged on the town, only to find that there was no food available. An airlift operation will begin once the insecurity in this area improves.
In total, WFP is currently targeting around 1.5 million displaced people throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose living conditions and nutritional status are extremely precarious. However, there are still significant numbers of people within the country whom WFP has been unable to reach because of the prevailing insecurity. WFP will be appealing for further resources to assist these people once they have been reached and identified.
To find out more about growing hunger in Africa and the global campaign to assist more than 38 million people across the continent, go to WFP's "Africa Hunger Alert" webpage. Videos and photos are also available: www.wfp.org/AfricaHungerAlert.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2001, WFP fed more than 77 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
For more information please contact:
Felix Bamezon, WFP Country Director,
DRC, Tel. +243-8807642
Francis Mwanza, Senior Public Affairs Officer, Tel. +39-06-65132623
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564
Paulette Jones, Public Information Unit, WFP Kenya, Tel. +254-2-622594/622704