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Food insecurity raises death toll after Congo violence

Kaba Bitika Marie, 19 months, an internally displaced and severely acute malnourished child receives medical attention at the Presbyterian hospital in Dibindi zone of Mbuji Mayi in Kasai Oriental Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, March 16, 2018. (Photo: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Food insecurity raises death toll after Congo violence

The guns have fallen silent in the Congolese town of Mwene Ditu, but each day starving children arrive at the small hospital there battling for their lives.

Justine Musau, pregnant with her second child, fled into the forest in the central Kasai region last year after militiamen arrived in her nearby village and started decapitating residents they accused of collaborating with government forces.

“We didn’t know who had gone where,” she said, holding her four-year-old daughter close to her chest. Nourished only by the occasional serving of cassava, her two children had fallen ill from the lack of nutrients, she said.

Fighting between the army and the Kamuina Nsapu militia went on for about a year in the generally peaceful region’s worst outbreak of violence in decades. As many as 5,000 people were killed and an estimated 1.5 million forced from their homes.

About 400,000 children in Kasai suffer from severe acute malnutrition, roughly the same number as in civil war-ravaged Yemen, according to the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF).

Only 13 percent receive medical attention “because there is not enough financing or attention,” said Christophe Boulierac, a UNICEF spokesman.

The crisis in Kasai is one of several gripping Congo, where President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down when his mandate expired in December 2016 inflamed a combustible mix of ethnic grievances and competition over land and mineral resources that has fuelled years of conflict.

In all, over 13 million Congolese need humanitarian aid, twice as many as last year, and 7.7 million face severe food insecurity, up 30 percent from a year ago, the U.N. said in a report this month. (Reuters)

Largely the result of conflicts and drought, by the end of 2017 food insecurity threatened an estimated 124 million people worldwide, an increase of 15 percent from the previous year,  according to the recently released UN-led Global Report on Food Crises.

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