The World Food Program has started airdrops of food aid into violence-wracked Katanga Province in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo. WFP says this is the agency's first airdrops since Sudan in 1998.
The World Food Program usually transports food aid by trucks and airlifts. But WFP spokesman Simon Pluess tells VOA, insecurity and the bad road conditions make this practically impossible. And, the current rains, he says, are making it especially difficult to move enough food into the region by road.
"It is so hard to get to these places. Last week, for example, WFP completed a distribution of one month of food rations to IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Dubei, but the food took more than a month to arrive by road," he said. "It is a logistical nightmare. And, since our convoys came under attack last year, the transport costs have more than doubled, because of the insecurity. There are not enough trucks in the region, so we are competing, as well, with the mining companies who pay cash in advance."
He says dropping food by air costs twice as much as road transport. He says the operation will go on for the next three months, until the rainy season ends. During that time, he says, WFP will airdrop food aid to more than 200,000 vulnerable people in the Katanga province. He calls their situation dire.
A recent nutritional survey by the aid group, Doctors Without Borders, found malnutrition rates in three camps for displaced people to be staggering. Pluess says life is particularly difficult for children under age five, and cites a report from the International Red Cross, the IRC.
"In these nutrition centers you actually find a high degree of malnourished children above the emergency level, so we have to act rapidly," he noted. "But, one has to know that the mortality is very, very high in Congo. Last year's IRC study (International Red Cross) shows over 1,200 people died every day because of preventable diseases. And, this is the misery of DRC."
Pluess says this shows the extent to which people in the DRC are being neglected by the outside world. He says the World Food Program runs relief operations for 1.5 million people throughout the country, but remains short of funds.