High death rates in prisons due to malnutrition

More than 50 inmates died in prisons across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during 2004 as a result of malnutrition, according to a report issued on Thursday by the justice system support unit of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC.

In just one prison, Mbuji-Mayi central prison in the province of Kasai Occidental, "a dramatic record was reached in November with 11 deaths", Luc Henkinbrant, the head of the unit, told IRIN on Thursday.

The number of malnutrition-related deaths in Mbuji-Mayi prison for the year was 34 out of a total of 320 inmates, the report said. It also stated that 40 other inmates were found to be suffering from severe malnutrition, while another 76 were moderately malnourished.

Malnutrition-related deaths are also common in Matadi prison, in Lower-Congo Province, and Kananga prison, in Western Kasai Province, according to the unit, which is part of MONUC's human rights section.

At Kananga, 35 of the 163 inmates were found to be severely malnourished.

In Mbandaka prison, located in the province of Equateur, "the ribs of most of the inmates were clearly visible", according to the report. Lack of food was the cause of the majority of illnesses, it said.

"The numbers are extremely worrisome," Henkinbrant said.

One of the report's recommendations is that inmates be allowed to undertake farming activities to feed themselves.