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WFP Steps Up Assistance to DRC's Orientale Province

The World Food Program says it is stepping up its humanitarian operation in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo in response to the conflict between government and rebel forces. WFP says this program will include assistance to Orientale Province where civilians are caught up in a separate conflict involving the Uganda rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

Fighting in eastern part of the country has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. Most attention has been focused on events in North Kivu where government forces are battling troops loyal to renegade commander Laurent Nkunda.

Less attention has been paid to Orientale Province, which borders southern Sudan and northern Uganda. The World Food Program says a humanitarian crisis is unfolding there, particularly around the town of Dungu.

Marcus Prior, who is WFP's Regional Spokesman for Eastern and Central Africa, has just visited North Kivu's provincial capital of Goma to look at the agency's operations.

In a telephone interview from Nairobi, he tells VOA that rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army have been attacking civilians around Dungu and forcing many to flee their villages.

"There have been reports of children being kidnapped and we now believe that there are in the region of about 70,000 people there who also are in need of assistance. And, that is what we are working to do at this time," he said.

The Lord's Resistance Army has been waging a civil war against the Ugandan government for more than two decades. During that time, it has kidnapped more than 10,000 children, forcing many to become child soldiers, laborers or sex slaves.

The LRA used to be based in southern Sudan. But, it is no longer welcome there and has moved to other areas including the northeastern region of DRC. Prior says civilians in Dungu are living in fear of being attacked and having their children abducted by the LRA.

"Many of them have been forced from their homes and they are in urgent need of assistance at the time of year when the rainy season means it is extremely difficult to move about and move into the region by road…The World Food Program's main concern at the moment is to make sure that the assistance that is needed, both in terms of food and other humanitarian supplies gets to these people as quickly as possible," he said.

Prior says it is extremely difficult to reach these people because of the worsening security and roads made impassable by rain. To work around those problems, he says WFP will try to fly supplies from Entebbe in Uganda to Dungu in DRC.

He says WFP has already airlifted two heavy-duty trucks to the area. They will be used to transport food to distribution sites. But, if this becomes impossible, he says airdrops might be used to provide food aid.

During November, WFP increased its food aid to 564,000 people across eastern DRC. This number includes 383,000 who are displaced in North Kivu alone.