GENEVA - At least 15.6 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are suffering from acute food shortages, sending malnutrition rates among children soaring, the U.N. World Food Program warns.
United Nations officials worry that the DRC might overtake Yemen as the biggest hunger emergency in the world.
The WFP says it needs $172 million to support short-term food requirements in Congo. WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told VOA her agency plans to provide food assistance this year to 8.6 million people suffering from extreme hunger, an increase of nearly two million over the record number of famished people it assisted in 2019.
"If we do not get adequate funding, we will have to reduce our operation, cut food rations and reduce the number of people we assist," Byrs said. "This is a very worrying situation."
Among those most at risk are people in the conflict-ravaged eastern provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu, and Tanganyika, as well as the central Kasai region. The WFP reports about 40 percent of the people in the provinces are approaching starvation levels.
Children are particularly vulnerable. The U.N. children's fund reports 3.4 million children in the DRC are acutely malnourished and 42.7 percent are stunted, the highest under-five-year-old rate in Southern Africa.
Conflict and inter-ethnic violence in eastern DRC have forced more than a million civilians to flee their homes this year, Byrs said, which has aggravated an already complex displacement and hunger crisis.
"We are also concerned about the IDPs, five million of IDPs, because 90 percent of them are women and children and they live in crowded settlements in urban areas with poor sanitation and poor health care and they are now at risk, at greater risk because of COVID-19," she said.
The World Health Organization reports more than 9,500 cases of coronavirus in the DRC, including 225 deaths. U.N. agencies fear the number is likely to increase as people in the cramped IDP sites are unable to practice physical distancing or good hygiene, as they lack access to clean water.