DRC: Hunger replaces war in Congo’s Katanga Province (IRIN News)

| April 11, 2016

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Sitting in the shade of her house, Emerance Mukendwa pulps dried cassava roots to extract a little flour. She sits next to a saucepan, which contains the brown and white flour she extracted by processing the far less nutritious cassava peel. People usually feed their cassava peel flour to animals in this area, but many families in the Katanga Province of southern Democratic Republic of the Congo are now eating it themselves.

Ms. Mukendwa lives in Kilangwa village. She says that she and other villagers can go whole days without eating their staple food fufu, a starchy porridge made from cassava or maize flour. She explains, “With the small amount of money we have, we can only afford cassava peel.”

Children in Kilangwa are already suffering from kwashiorkor, a result of the failed bean and maize harvest. The disease is a severe form of protein-energy deficiency.

People in this region were displaced by conflicts involving the Bakata-Katanga rebels for almost three years. They had little food before they fled, and now heavy rains are adding to their suffering.

In spite of everything, Ms. Mukendwa is not ready to move again. She says, “The situation is the same everywhere. Leaving for another place, where you’re a stranger, is very hard. So I prefer staying and suffering here.”

It poured this season—sometimes three times a day. The seeds, so diligently planted, rotted in the ground. Up to 40,000 people are now at risk of hunger in this small area, according to the NGO Solidarités International.

Three years ago, the region was known as the “triangle of death” because of the Bakata-Katanga rebels. The conflict displaced up to 600,000 people, though that number has fallen now that people have begun to return home after the Congolese government introduced an amnesty and disarmament program.

Paul Masengo Kipekwe had to flee twice from the Bakata-Katanga (literally “cut Katanga” in Swahili). The first time was in 2013, when he was living in Pongo, just north of Lake Mweru in southeast DRC.

Mr. Kipekwe now lives in Kanyoka, just a few kilometres away from Pongo, where he has turned to farming. He received a basic three months’ package of food aid containing maize flour, beans, vegetable oil, and salt. He also received a supply of maize, bean, and groundnut seeds, along with farming equipment and training—all provided by Solidarités International.

Mr. Kipekwe started farming in December, but the rainy season has been so heavy that he expects to harvest very little in the May-June season.

He says: “When we came back here, we were very worried because our fields were destroyed. These rains really make our situation worse. Beans and maize seeds have really been affected. Groundnuts are our only hope.”

Mr. Kipekwe is hoping for additional food aid. In the meantime, his family eats baby cassava roots to survive.

Jean Bisongo Kabika is a villager from Kanyoka who has fled the Bakata-Katanga three times. Two of his children died from malnutrition.

Unlike many of his neighbours, he has not started farming yet, and is not very motivated to do so. He has too many doubts about the future. He says, “I can farm today and have to flee again.” Instead, like some other returnees, he has started eating his seeds.

To read the full article on which this story is based, Hunger replaces war in Congo’s Katanga, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/news/2016/04/01/hunger-replaces-war-congo%E2%80%99s-katanga