Goma — The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has airlifted food for thousands of recently-displaced people in Punia, an isolated town in Maniema Province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Distributions of high-energy biscuits, used in emergencies because they are nutritious and light to transport, are due to begin tomorrow.
Aircraft currently provide the only means of bringing supplies to the Punia area. Heavy rains have made the unpaved roads impassable for large transport trucks - the usual means of delivering WFP food over long distances.
The 20 metric tons of rations airlifted from Goma over the last two days will feed some of the 40,000 displaced people in this remote place. Most are living with host families who themselves have limited resources. WFP is planning another airlift to reach more of those in need but currently faces a funding shortfall for the operation.
"Bringing food assistance to Punia is costly and also poses an immense logistical challenge," says WFP Country Director in DRC, Martin Ohlsen. "Even after airlifting the food in, there's no proper storage facility at the airstrip and the road to Punia town is an 18 kilometre-long muddy track. For transport, we have to rely on two ancient rusty trucks."
A previous airlift of 42 metric tons of WFP food supplies for displaced people in Maniema province took place early last month.
Thousands of people have fled their homes in recent weeks to escape fighting between Mai Mai rebels and units of the Congolese army over a mining area on the borders of North Kivu and Maniema provinces. Maniema province currently hosts some 163,000 people displaced by fighting in both North and South Kivu provinces.
"We'll be working with community leaders to help the most vulnerable who are terrified after fleeing with just their clothes and some household belongings," says Jean Pierre Mambounou, head of the programme unit at WFP's regional office in Goma, eastern DRC. "With 20 tons of food, we can feed 8,000 people for five days."
Concurrent crises are affecting the five provinces of eastern DRC where different armed groups are fighting to expand their zones of control. According to latest figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are some 2.6 million internally displaced people across the central African country: 842,000 in South Kivu, 800,000 in North Kivu, 497,000 in Orientale, 316,000 in Katanga and 163,000 in Maniema.
In spite of the lack of security, poor road infrastructure, long distances and high transport costs, WFP distributed nearly 800,000 two-week food rations to the internally displaced of eastern DRC's five provinces between the launch of its emergency operation in September 2012 and the end of last month.
WFP needs to raise US $3.9 million to assist all the recently-displaced people in eastern DRC over the next five months.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Each year, on average, WFP feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries.
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David Orr, WFP/Nairobi, Tel. +254 20 762 2594, Mob. +254 707 722 105
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