Hunger rises as rebel violence in eastern Congo business News

NYARAGONGO, Congo (AP) – The last thing Pasika Bagrimana remembers before her sons died was their crying of hunger. But the 25-year-old mother had nothing to feed him.

“Mom, I want to eat. Can you give me food?” He begged her. Daniels, 2, and Bonen, 5, died just weeks later in July, when M23 rebels and government forces clashed in the east. fled the violence in his village in the Congo.

Bagrimana worries that her remaining two children may be next. “Hunger is killing people,” she says, sitting in a cramped room she now shares with dozens of other displaced people.

Hunger is rising in parts of Congo’s war-torn North Kivu province, where fighting between M23 rebels and government troops has been going on since November, according to aid workers, civilians and health workers.

Despite being the most fertile region in eastern Congo, some 260,000 people face extreme food insecurity in the Nyaragongo and Ritsuru regions, according to an internal draft assessment by aid groups seen by the Associated Press.

The report said the prevalence of hunger is highest in Nyaragongo in the province and that Rutsuru, where fighting is concentrated, “is a concern”.

Congo is the world’s No. 1 country in need of food aid, according to an unpublished draft food security report by aid agencies and the government seen by the AP. At least 26 million people – more than a quarter of the population – face food insecurity, largely due to violence. The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine are also making things worse.

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This year only 10% of those targeted by aid groups received full recommended food aid because funding constraints and security concerns restrict access. Humanitarians have warned that if the fighting continues, millions of people could face severe hunger.

“The situation was already dire and this conflict is just adding another layer and making everything worse,” said Mark Sekpon, head of Congo’s food security coordinating body, of international aid agencies focused on food security strategy and intervention. A group.

“Most of the people in these areas are either what they eat or get their food from the market,” he said. “The rise in food prices in the province and their reduced access to agricultural production seriously jeopardized their ability to obtain food.”

During a visit in September to three cities in Rutsuru and Nyaragongo, where nearly 200,000 people have been displaced, people told the AP how violence had forced them from their farms, leaving recently harvested food to rot. Gave.

Citizens said they did not have land to cultivate, and could not earn enough money to buy food in the city. Of the nearly 3,000 displaced families in Nyaragongo, 450 were helped, said Florence Bioyicki, vice president of a temporary displacement site.

Health workers at Nyiragongo’s main hospital said the number of severely malnourished children nearly tripled between April and July — from 17 to 49. Mark Lucando, a nurse at the clinic, said a 2-year-old boy died of malnutrition in July.

They say that the hospital has nothing to feed the malnourished children. And while it is able to provide nutrients to families, parents sometimes sell it and use the money to feed the whole family instead of giving it to their children, he said.

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While the M23 rebels were largely inactive for nearly a decade, they demonstrated increased firepower and captured part of the area and were accused of killing civilians by rights groups and communities. A man living under M23 who did not want to be named for fear of his safety told the AP that the group forces residents to pay a $5 tax every time they access their farms. He said M23 fighters recently told villagers that they needed to bring or eject group bags of beans.

Still, some are so desperate for food that they are risking their lives to return to cities controlled by the rebels.

Chantale Dusabe had fled from her village in June after her husband died in an explosion in her husband’s compound. Despite the risk she returned several days later, but was too scared to go back.

“I knew M23 was there, but the kids were hungry,” said Dusabey, who managed to get some bananas.

In a written statement to the AP, Lawrence Kanyuka, M23’s political spokesman, said people are allowed to move freely and that the allegations of human rights abuses are baseless.

Rutshuru Regional Administrator Luke Albert Bakole said the government was planning a countermeasure to take back about 30% of the area occupied by the M23.

“We must do our best to take back the entire enemy-controlled area, so that our people can return home and resume their normal lives,” he said.

But when the government is struggling to acquire land, people are starving. Doctors Without Borders said it saw a 50% increase in admissions of severely malnourished children to the Rutsuru city hospital between January and July this year compared to the same period last year.

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In August, Rahabu Maombi brought her malnourished daughter to Rutsuru Hospital after the 22-year-old mother ran away after fighting in a nearby village. Since being displaced, the family eats only once a day, she said.

While feeding her 18-month-old baby with a tube in her nose, Maombi says she can’t let go of worrying that her daughter might die.

“If there wasn’t a war, my child wouldn’t be in this situation,” she said. “This war has destroyed so many things in our lives.”