Acute hunger looms in the DRC warns UN

The FAO and WFP have warned that the scale of acute hunger in the DRC is “staggering”. Conflict and insecurity have been a leading factor, followed by Covid-19 and economic decline.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), food insecurity remains critical, with one in three people suffering from acute hunger, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA) and World Food Programme warned on Tuesday.

One in three hunger

The two United Nations agencies raised alarm after the latest Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis showed that around 27.3 million people out of 96 million people analyzed are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This makes the central African country home to the record number of people in urgent need of food security assistance in the world.

“For the first time ever, we were able to analyze the vast majority of the population, and this has helped us to come closer to the true picture of the staggering scale of food insecurity in the DRC,” said Peter Musoko, WFP’s representative in DRC.  He said the country should be able to feed its population and export a surplus. “We cannot have children going to bed hungry and families skipping meals for an entire day,” he said.

Conflict a leading factor

Armed conflict and inter-communal violence remain a key cause of hunger, with large swathes of the conflict-affected eastern provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu and Tanganyika, as well as the central region of the Kasais, the scene of recent conflict, the worst hit.

Other key factors compounding this crisis include the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 restrictions and the slump in DRC’s economy.

“The recurring conflicts in eastern DRC and the suffering they bring remain of great concern. Social and political stability is essential to strengthen food security and boost the resilience of vulnerable populations. We need to urgently focus on growing food where it is needed most, and on keeping people’s sustenance-giving animals alive. The main agricultural season is around the corner and there is no time to waste,” said Aristide Ongone Obame, FAO Representative in DRC.

Displaced and migrants are worst affected

With a displaced population of 5.2 million, the DRC is currently host to the second largest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world. The country also hosts some 527,000 refugees from neighbouring countries.

Behind these numbers are the stories of parents deprived of access to their land, or forced to flee for their lives, watching their children fall sick for lack of food. WFP staff have met families who have returned to their village to find their home burnt to the ground and their crops entirely looted. Some have been surviving by eating only taro, a root that grows wild, or only cassava leaves boiled in water.

The most affected populations are mainly the displaced, refugees, returnees, host families and those affected by natural disasters (floods, landslides, fires) as well as female-headed households. Added to this are the poorest populations in urban and peri-urban areas and those living in landlocked areas with low purchasing power and access to food through markets.

FAO, WFP appeal

The UN agencies are recommending four main thrusts in actions to reverse the situation in the DRC.  They are calling for an end to inter-communal violence and conflicts, immediate and urgent humanitarian assistance to populations experiencing high levels of food insecurity, support to the livelihood of households in crisis and strengthening nutritional screening, support the capacity of the country’s health facilities.

Specifically, FAO is focusing on increasing households’ access to tools and seeds; providing quality livestock, which plays a key role in improving nutrition; supporting food processes and storage; and helping small farmers in the fight against animal and plant diseases. This year, FAO aims to provide life-saving livelihood assistance to 1.1 million people in areas affected by high acute food insecurity.

As part of its famine prevention work, WFP is providing life-saving food to 8.7 million people in DRC. In addition, WFP needs notably to be able to continue its work in the prevention and treatment of malnutrition, which affects 3.3 million children in the country. Malnutrition in early childhood affects children for the rest of their lives, impairing their ability to realize their full potential and contribute to their communities.

In a move towards a longer-term solution, FAO and WFP are investing in resilience-building projects that support community farming to boost yields, reduce losses and spur access to markets. These projects help communities build their lives and create a pathway to peace.

The IPC yardstick 

The IPC is a common global system for classifying the severity and magnitude of the food insecurity and malnutrition situation in countries around the world and identifying its key drivers. The IPC Classification System distinguishes and links acute food insecurity, chronic food insecurity and acute malnutrition to support more strategic and better coordinated responses. The protocols used by the IPC are harmonized across three individual scales: IPC Acute Food Insecurity, IPC Chronic Food Insecurity, and IPC Acute Malnutrition.  (Source: FAO)

By Robin Gomes

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