Violence in central DR Congo leaves 400,000 children prey to malnutrition

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Spiralling violence in central Democratic Republic of Congo has disrupted farming and shut down health centres, leaving hundreds of thousands of children vulnerable to life-threatening malnutrition, UNICEF said.

An insurrection against government in central Greater Kasai region left hundreds dead and uprooted more than a million people since last July, with the United Nations warning of a “dramatically deteriorating” humanitarian situation.

In Central Kasai – one of the region’s five provinces – more than a third of health centres have been forced to close, while food supplies dwindle and hygiene and sanitation conditions worsen, according to UNICEF.

The conflict has left an estimated 400,000 children in the region facing acute malnutrition, the UN agency said.
“These children are among the most vulnerable in the country and now they face a looming crisis if access to basic services is not restored quickly,” UNICEF’s regional director Marie-Pierre Poirier said in a statement.

Reaching these children in Greater Kasai’s remote areas, identifying those who are malnourished and providing therapeutic food is challenging given the insecurity, UNICEF said.

Even before the recent surge in violence, the region was one of the poorest in Congo.

More than one in 10 children in the region die before the age of five due to a lack of health care and half suffer from chronic malnutrition or stunting, UNICEF said.

Ethnic violence in Congo, Africa’s second-largest country, has spread and worsened since December when President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his mandate.

Analysts fear growing violence could spark a repeat of the conflicts between 1996 and 2003, mostly in the east, in which millions died, mainly from hunger and disease.

The conflict has forced at least 1.5 million people to flee their homes so far this year – more than triple the number uprooted in Syria and five times the number in Iraq, the Norwegian Refugee Council said.

The total number of displaced across Congo has more than doubled to 3.7 million since August 2016, with 1.3 million uprooted in the Kasai region, according to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
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