The starving people of the Congo need a holiday miracle
If ever a country was in need of a miracle this holiday season, it is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You may have heard news of the deadly attack on UN Peacekeepers there earlier this month. The Congo has been in chaos for years with armed groups terrorizing the countryside and battling the government.
As the holidays arrive there is another tragedy rapidly unfolding in the Congo, one which we can all do something about. In the Kasai region, the situation has become catastrophic because of food shortages caused by the fighting.
People are starving to death and desperately need aid. But the UN World Food Programme (WFP) does not have enough money to feed them. WFP relies on voluntary donations from governments and the public. But they are so low on funds for the Congo, they have already cut rations in half for some war victims. These are people that need food more than anyone.
The WFP director, David Beasley, warns “As many as 250,000 children could starve in Kasai in the next few months unless enough nutritious food reaches them quickly. We need access to those children, and we need money — urgently.”
Over a million people have been displaced from their homes. Farming, which is something many of us take for granted, cannot happen in the Congo. Violence and displacement has prevented farmers from planting and growing food. What this does is create a cycle of poverty and desperation that is almost impossible to escape.
Once families are displaced from their land, how can they make a living? Many are forced to beg or sell whatever they own just to survive. Some eat seeds that are normally used for planting.
Imagine being forced out of your own home and losing access to all your resources. You would depend on help from others to survive. But what if there was not enough funds available for a charity to provide for your family.
That is what’s happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Claude Jibidar, of the UN World Food Programme, says “Without immediate donor support, many — particularly women and children — will die.”
WFP reports that people in Kasai are eating “just cassava root and leaves.” In this holiday season where feasts are all around, we cannot forget there are war victims in the Congo who are eating next to nothing.
For children, they are most at risk during this hunger crisis. Challiss McDonough of the WFP explains that they use special enriched foods like Plumpy’Sup to treat and prevent deadly malnutrition in children. But if there is not enough funding this life-saving food cannot be provided.
The tragedy in the Congo emphasizes how important U.S. food aid programs are and why they need funding from the Congress. The Food for Peace, McGovern-Dole, Feed the Future and other assistance programs need increased funding to cope with the many hunger emergencies around the globe. Food for Peace, run by USAID, provides funding to Catholic Relief Services and the World Food Programme in the Congo. We should increase this support. Food is vital to winning peace around the globe, and Congress must recognize this when making the budget.
If WFP has enough funding for the Congo they can save lives and restore agriculture, nutrition programs and school feeding for children.
The Congo needs food and peace. We can provide the food which will help create the conditions for peace to emerge. We can give them that hope. This holiday season it can be the simplest and most important gift you can give, a meal for a child that will save them from the despair of hunger.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Programme on the book Ending World Hunger. He has been published by the New York Times, HuffPost, History News Network, Buffalo News, Cincinnati Enquirer and many other news outlets.