ACF Responds to Nutrition Crisis in D.R. Congo
DJUMA, BANDUNDU, D.R CONGO—Action Against Hunger | ACF International found some of the highest rates of acute malnutrition the organization has ever seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo during its latest nutrition survey in Djuma, a health zone in the southern province of Bandundu. The global humanitarian group is treating thousands of children facing starvation in that area, as well as other provinces across the country’s south, where life-threatening malnutrition is rampant among young children.
Nearly one in five children in Djuma suffers from acute malnutrition, twice the emergency level designated by the Congolese Ministry of Health. The rate of global acute malnutrition in the zone has more than doubled since this time last year—from 9.6 percent to 19.8 percent.
“We’re rushing to respond to the emergency and remain very concerned by the high volume of families seeking care for their children in our therapeutic nutrition centers,” said Cheick Ba, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Action Against Hunger has deployed two emergency teams in Bandundu and is present in nearby Kasai and Katanga provinces, where malnutrition rates are also above the national emergency threshold. More than 830 children have been admitted to seven ACF-supported nutrition centers in Djuma in the last month; some 7,600 others have been treated since July in various malnutrition hot-spots in southern D.R. Congo by a joint effort between ACF and local health authorities. Care for acute malnutrition, a condition whereby the body begins to consume its own tissues after depleting energy reserves, involves an intensive therapeutic regimen specially designed for children’s metabolisms.
Southern Congo receives scant attention from institutional donors, who are focused on the country’s east, a place ravaged by ongoing violence. “Although the south is not a conflict area, it faces a different—and equally devastating—type of crisis,” said Karine Milhorgne, Desk Officer for D.R. Congo. “Until these recurring crises are treated as emergencies and prioritized as such, we will continue to see large numbers of children dying from a condition that is entirely preventable and treatable.”
Bandundu faces recurrent high rates of malnutrition resulting from a number of related factors, including insufficient agricultural and animal production, a shortage of income-generating activities, poor nutrition practices, and the widespread destruction of cassava, a staple crop, by a contagious plant disease. In an effort to make ends meet, some farmers have been forced to sell their harvests before their crops mature, leaving them with little income or seed reserves. The population has also had difficulties adapting their agricultural techniques to changing climate patterns, which have made crop cultivation more difficult.
In D.R. Congo since 1996, Action Against Hunger carries out nutrition, food security, and water, sanitation, and hygiene programs in the provinces of East and West Kasai, Katanga, North and South Kivu, Kinshasa, Province Orientale, as well as Bandundu. Action Against Hunger has treated more than 20,000 children with severe acute malnutrition, the most serious form of the condition, across the country this year alone.