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UN Food Aid Agency Steps Up Relief for Congo Refugees

FILE - Congolese victims of ethnic violence are seen at a makeshift camp for the internally displaced people in Bunia, Ituri province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, June 25, 2019.

The U.N. World Food Program said Tuesday it will triple the number of people it is providing food and cash assistance to in northeastern Congo's Ituri province, which is facing inter-ethnic violence and an Ebola epidemic.

WFP said a resurgence of clashes between ethnic groups has claimed at least 160 lives in recent weeks and has forced tens of thousands of additional people — many of whom are malnourished — to flee their homes.

Ituri is one of two provinces in the grip of Congo's worst-ever Ebola outbreak, which has claimed more than 1,400 lives.

The U.N. food agency said it intends to expand the number of displaced people it is assisting in Ituri every month from 116,000 to 300,000.

"Our hearts go out to the latest victims of this senseless cruelty, most of them rural villagers who have had to run for their lives, with little or nothing, right at harvest time," WFP's Congo representative Claude Jibidar said in a statement. "Our ongoing relief operation in Ituri ... means we are ready and able to quickly scale up."

According to WFP, Congo is "the world's second-largest hunger crisis," with 13 million people not having a secure supply of food. This includes 5 million children "who are acutely malnourished," the agency said.

WFP said it plans to assist 5.2 million Congolese this year, the same number it helped in 2018.