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WFP Considers Future Airlift to North Kivu


A senior official of the World Food Program tells VOA the agency might have to airlift food to thousands of people trapped in North Kivu if fighting in the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo goes on for a long time. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The World Food Program suspended its operations in North Kivu because of renewed fighting between the government and forces loyal to renegade leader Laurent Nkunda.

WFP Geneva office Director Daly Belgasmi says the agency recently completed a food distribution to tens of thousands of internally displaced people. But, if the fighting continues road access to the displaced will be severely limited.

He tells VOA the World Food Program believes an expensive, targeted air operation may become necessary.

"We have to secure the air corridors and to talk to different parties," he said. "One thing, WFP will not let the population starve ... We will do everything possible to fulfill our mandate and to provide assistance to these people."

The World Food Program feeds 335,000 displaced people. But, Belgasmi says that number could rise to 500,000 if security conditions continue to deteriorate.

He says the situation is not much better in neighboring Central African Republic and Congo Brazzaville. As with the DRC, he says these countries also are wracked with insecurity, with extremely poor populations, many of which are malnourished and stricken with the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

He says he visited an area in northeastern Central African Republic where fighting continues between the government and rebels. He says the World Food Program is assisting 472,000 people displaced by the conflict. He describes the area as very tense.

"IDPs [Internally displaced people] are moving from the bush to the main road and from the main road to the bush," he said. "There are many claims of attacks and rapes from rebels, armed forces and bandits. And, I think all efforts should be made to put the country back to a development path ... We need also, a strong need to have qualified non-governmental organization, NGO, especially in the area of water and sanitation."

In Congo Brazzaville, Belgasmi says he was particularly struck by the devastation of the manioc crop, the country's main food source. He says a virus is destroying two-thirds of the plant's tuber or fleshy root. And, the plague is moving into the Central African Republic.

Belgasmi calls this a disaster. If the crop disappears, he says, it will provoke a serious crisis.