Food barge to cross frontline for CAR refugees

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced the departure on Saturday of a humanitarian barge transporting 267 mt of foodstuffs from Kinshasa to some 25,000 refugees from the Central African Republic currently in the northwestern city of Zongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), WFP reported.

This is the first barge, humanitarian or otherwise, to travel from Kinshasa to the Ubangui river, which forms a natural border between the DRC and the CAR, since war erupted in the DRC in August 1998. The subsequent cessation of riverine traffic on the Congo and Ubangui rivers effectively ended commerce between the northwestern province of Equateur and the DRC capital.

It will take 28 days for the barge to reach Zongo, passing across the frontline between government-held territory and that controlled by the Ugandan-backed Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo (MLC) armed opposition group. Foodstuffs including 216 mt of peas, 36 mt of corn-soya blend, 9 mt of salt and 6 mt of sugar will be distributed to the refugees in camps established for them by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in the village of Mole, 30 km from Zongo. The refugees fled across the Ubangui river from the CAR capital of Bangui in May and June following a failed coup.

"Until this point, the refugees were managing to survive on the meager supplies they brought with them when they fled Bangui," Jose Pita-Gros, WFP Deputy Country Director for the DRC, said. "However, with time, their supplies have been exhausted and many refugees now find themselves completely dependant on food aid."

Although Equateur province has been seriously affected by the war in the DRC, the UN agency was able to purchase 250 mt of corn flour and 30 mt of palm oil for the refugees locally, thereby benefiting the regional economy, WFP reported. These will be distributed in the coming days, ahead of the arrival of the WFP barge.

Meanwhile, WFP continues to send barges every three months with some 400 mt of foodstuffs from Kinshasa to the northwestern city of Mbandaka for internally displaced Congolese living in the frontline region.

In addition to its assistance to CAR refugees in the north, WFP reported that it was helping some 70,000 Angolan refugees in the southern provinces of the DRC.