Obstacles to Action in Congo: Lack of Access Hinders Humanitarian Interventions

Attention called to ongoing conflicts, threats to stability in places of nominal peace

While international media attention is focused on the war in Iraq, forgotten humanitarian crises continue in areas of nominal peace, like Shabunda, DRC, where international humanitarian aid organization Action Against Hunger / Action Contre la Faim (ACF) continues to encounter problems of access to the population in need.

Action Against Hunger recently withdrew from Shabunda due to anticipated fighting between the warring factions. At the time of withdrawal there were approximately 100 patients in Action Against Hunger's Therapeutic Feeding Center (TFC) and nearly 600 in all ACF's TFCs in Eastern Congo. Supplies were left to continue life-saving operations for one month. Without replenishment in April, these beneficiaries, mostly children, face certain death.

"The situation is of great concern to us," said Banu Altunbas, country director for Action Against Hunger in Eastern DRC. "There is need for humanitarian intervention in nutrition, health, and food security, but there is not enough access to enable these programs to be implemented." Action Against Hunger first gained access to Shabunda in February 2002 at which time a nutritional survey was conducted. It was found that 1 in 5 children under the age of five were malnourished and in need of emergency care. Since that time, even with intermittent access, Action Against Hunger's teams have been able to lower the rate of malnutrition, but there are fears that the recent withdrawal could affect continued progress.

Additionally, little information is known about the nutritional situation in the surrounding areas, though there is reason to believe there are people suffering from malnutrition. "There is a need to assess the nutritional situation in other parts of the territory," Ms. Altunbas explained, "but logistically this has not yet been possible."

This is the second time, in less than six months, that Action Against Hunger has had to withdraw from their humanitarian base in Shabunda due to access issues, putting civilian populations at risk.

Action Against Hunger calls on all parties in DRC to ensure that humanitarian assistance can be provided to civilians immediately in order to avert further nutritional emergencies and possible mortality.