Poor harvest threatens food security, transport problems close feeding centre

Many tens of thousands of displaced people in Democratic Republic of Congo's conflict-ridden South Kivu province face serious food shortages in the coming months after their crops were destroyed by heavy rainfall in the region, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

"In the forest areas of Mwenga and Shabunda, more than 150,000 newly and previously displaced will not have sufficient food because of the bad harvest," said WFP spokeswoman Aline Samu.

According to Kemal Saiki, spokesman for the UN mission in Congo (MONUC), thousands of hectares of crops in the hilly zones of the area had been destroyed by a hailstorm.

Recent torrential rainfall also prevented farmers from harvesting what was left of their crops, he added.

"Those who had fled [violence] in the area in the past received food and seeds to allow them to return to their villages of origin, but since the harvest has been lost, they are now in danger [of a food crisis]," said Samu. "By January 2008, they will face general food shortages. Food assistance will be necessary during the first quarter of next year."

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring province of Maniema, 10 therapeutic and supplementary feeding centres, where 4,500 severely malnourished children have been receiving care, have been closed down after transport problems cut off supplies, Saiki said.

Centres in Kindu, the main town in Mainiema, had not received supplies for more than a month and half.

According to Samu, 500 tonnes of food destined for the feeding centres and to be transported by rail from the city of Lubumbashi, was stuck at Kabongo because there was no locomotive to haul the wagons to Kindu.

"Mothers do not bring their children to the centres any more for care and food. They are preoccupied with their daily chores of looking for food for the rest of the families, leaving their severely malnourished children to their own devices," Samu added.

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