More than three million people are at risk of starvation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations (UN) food agency has warned.
Hundreds of thousands of children may die in the coming months if aid is not urgently delivered to the conflict-wracked central African nation, said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP).
Violence erupted between rebel militia and government forces in Congo’s Kasai province in August 2016 and has intensified since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his constitutional mandate ended in December.
The conflict has left 1.5 million people homeless, many of them children, in a country still recovering from a brutal civil war.
Mr Beasley visited Kasai this week and described what he saw as a “disaster”.
“We saw burned huts, burned homes, seriously malnourished children that had been stunted, obviously many children have died already,” he told the BBC.
“We’re talking about several hundred thousand children there that will die in the next few months if we don’t get first funds, and then second food, and then third access in the right locations.”
Mr Beasley said the WFP had only one per cent of the funding it needed to help people in Kasai, and warned the coming rainy season would soon make already difficult roads impassable.
He added: “If we wait another few more weeks before we receive funds to pre-position food, I can’t imagine how horrible the situation is going to be.
“We need help, and we need it right now.”
Violence flared in Kasai last year when the government refused to recognise a local hereditary chief, Kamuina Nsapu, who was considered hostile to the government. He set up a militia before being killed in clashes. Since his death several rebel factions have emerged, each fighting different causes but counting authorities as their common enemy.
The conflict has worsened and spread to five provinces, reportedly killing thousands. Both sides have been accused of human rights violations, while investigators have uncovered mass graves and harrowing evidence of people being hacked to death with machetes and burned alive.
President Kabila has blamed violence in Kasai for delaying elections and has refused to step down until a successor has been voted in. But repeated delays to polls have inflamed unrest, sparked deadly protests and raised fears the country would slip back into the kind of civil war that killed millions just before the turn of the century.
This week, Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, warned Congo would lose international support if President Kabila did not hold elections before the end of 2018.
Ms Haley met the President on Friday during a three-country African tour.
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