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DRC: where violence stokes starvation

Democratic Republic of Congo hunger crisis in Kasai region

A quarter of a million children face starvation if Greater Kasai region in the DRC does not get food aid. Photo courtesy of United Nations World Food Programme.

The humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is worsening, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) director David Beasley, who visited the DRC to assess the hunger crisis in the country's conflict-ridden eastern regions.

“As many as 250,000 children could starve in Kasai in the next few months unless enough nutritious food reaches them quickly.... We need access to those children, and we need money – urgently,” Beasley said.

The food programme is escalating its assistance to the conflict-ravaged region and plans to expand it to reach 500,000 by the end of the year. Thus far the WFP has sourced the majority of its funding to avert the hunger crisis through borrowing internally, having received only 1% from international funders.

Government and local armed groups have been locked in a 20-year conflict that has seen heightened levels of violence in the past year. The violence has subsided in the Kasai region in recent weeks, according the humanitarian agency.

The WFP's estimates suggest that the 1.4-million people affected by the hunger crisis in the Kasai region are a quarter of the region's population. Recent violence in Kasai-Central was sparked by the death of militia leader Kamwina Nsapu in September.

According to Beasley, the WFP needs to increase the aid offered to more than 7-million food insecure people in the country to avert an imminent humanitarian crisis. Earlier this year the fund announced that a Humanitarian Response Plan would require $748m to address the most critical needs of internally displaced persons.

Food security is hampered by the flare-ups of violence between armed groups operating in the region who are locked in a cycle of conflict spanning two decades. In many of the confrontations the interests involved affect the lives of people in multiple countries.

The crisis in the country is confounded by the volatile political environment caused by the alleged unwillingness of President Joseph Kabila to relinquish power after his term of office expired in 2016.

UN Food Programme director David Beasley visited Kasai region in the DRC

UN WFP director David Beasley visited the Greater Kasai region where he warned of a looming catastrophe if food aid is not prioritised and expedited. Photo courtesy of United Nations World Food Programme.

Among rebel groups operating in the region is the Allied Democratic Fighters, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, Lord's Resistance Army, which also operates in Uganda, and the March 23 Movement.

The DRC is nestled in a volatile geopolitical region with armed groups in each of the different countries involved in cross-border conflict. Rebel groups challenging their national governments mobilise in neighbouring countries, then return to fight causing further displacement and another wave of rebels and refugees.

Political groupings in the country organise themselves along ethnic lines. This is the cracked foundation from which a decolonised DRC was built.

There are important factors affecting the volatility of the politics of DRC:

The first is the country's legacy of tension between the capital and regional political forces that seek less centralisation by the state. And the second is that politics is historically organised along largely ethnic lines.

The seeds to the hunger crisis in some regions of the country were planted when in 1986 citizenship laws in the country rendered some residents, with descendents in neighbouring countries, excluded from DRC citizenship. These laws also prevented them from owning land in the country.

Fuelling tensions even further is that political factions are formed along ethnic lines. Whoever rules at any given time is perceived to be acting in the interest of select groups. Regional leaders are prone to clash with the central government in the fight for increased autonomy.

While violence in the area has subsided, people are still victims of banditry and extortion. Beasley said he had never cone across so many women and children forced to struggle for survival.

“What the brave people I met over the last few days want most of all is peace – peace to be able to grow their own food, to rebuild their lives and to build a brighter tomorrow for their children. It’s a simple, powerful message. I have conveyed it to President [Joseph] Kabila and members of his government, urging that they do more to help this come about.”

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