Levels of hunger in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are at a “staggering” record high, now affecting one-in-three people, UN humanitarians warned on Tuesday.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), 27.3 million people face “acute” food insecurity – some seven million of whom are suffering “emergency” levels of acute hunger.
This means that the central African country is home to the highest number of people in the world, who are in urgent need of food security assistance, according to the latest Integrated Phase Classification analysis.
“For the first time ever we were able to analyse the vast majority of the population, and this has helped us to come closer to the true picture of the staggering scale of food insecurity in the DRC”, said Peter Musoko, WFP’s DR Congo representative.
“This country should be able to feed its population and export a surplus. We cannot have children going to bed hungry and families skipping meals for an entire day”, he added.
Triggers for hunger
Conflict remains a key cause of hunger, particularly in the central Kasais, along with the eastern provinces of Ituri, North and South Kivu and Tanganyika, the UN agencies said.
Other main factors compounding the crisis include a slump in the country’s economy as well as the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.
Despite the official end to the DRC’s civil war in 2003, militia violence has persisted there for decades, particularly in the eastern borderlands with Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.
“The recurring conflicts in eastern DRC and the suffering they bring remain of great concern”, said Aristide Ongone Obame, FAO Representative in DRC.
Upholding that social and political stability are “essential to strengthen food security and boost the resilience of vulnerable populations”, he said there was an urgent need to focus on growing more food, and boosting livestock.
“The main agricultural season is around the corner and there is no time to waste”, said the FAO official.
Behind the numbers
The UN agencies painted a picture of Congolese forced to flee for their lives, parents watching their children fall sick for lack of food, and farmers deprived of access to their own land.
WFP staff recounted stories of families surviving on taro, a root that grows wild, or cassava leaves boiled in water.
Moreover, some who returned to their village found their homes burnt to the ground and crops stolen.
The most affected populations are mainly households headed up by women, as well as refugees, returnees, host families, the displaced and those affected by natural disasters.
Added to that are the poorest populations, with low purchasing power and limited access to food markets.