London — Hundreds of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo could soon starve to death with famine looming due to widespread conflict, displacement and a lack of funding, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
Militia fighting that broke out in Congo's central Kasai region in 2016 has left 3.2 million people without enough to eat, three leading U.N. agencies said in a joint statement.
Only one in eight people needing food received aid last month amid funding shortages, according to the agencies.
"There are signs that donors are beginning to respond, but resources are woefully inadequate given the scale of human suffering," said Claude Jibidar, country director for the World Food Programme (WFP).
The United Nations asked donors for $1.7 billion for Congo this year, its third largest appeal after Syria and Yemen. Its request for $812 million in 2017 was only about half funded.
"The Congolese government and the international community must re-engage on all fronts to prevent a major famine in Kasai," Jibidar said in a statement. "Failure to do so, immediately and collectively, means many people will die."
More than 3,000 people have been killed and at least 1.7 million forced to flee their homes in Kasai since the start of the insurrection by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, which wants military forces to withdraw from the region.
The conflict has driven farmers from their land and disrupted three consecutive planting seasons, leaving people in an area which depends heavily on agriculture with very little to eat, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
"Agriculture is the only way to become productive again," said FAO representative Alexis Bonte.
"Not only does it generate food and income for families, but it restores hope, dignity and self-reliance."
Children in Kasai have been hit hardest by the fighting, with 400,000 of those aged five or under severely malnourished, said Tajudeen Oyewale of the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF).
"They are likely to die unless they urgently receive health, water, sanitation and nutrition support," he said.
Ethnic violence in Congo, Africa's second-largest country, has spread and worsened since December 2016 when President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his mandate.
- Reporting by Karla Mendes. Editing by Kieran Guilbert