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Amid violence in eastern Congo, MCC helps provide food

Tim Shenk
January 8, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is helping to provide food to about 30,000 people who have been displaced by violence in the troubled eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Fighting between government and rebel forces has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians in Congo's North Kivu province since August, according to the United Nations. With financial support from MCC, relief workers are distributing a 20-day supply of beans, corn, rice, cooking oil and salt to recently displaced people in North Kivu and neighboring provinces.

Food has become scarce throughout North Kivu because farmers have fled their land, according to Kawaya Ngenda, a coordinator for the aid organization ACT International, which is carrying out the food distribution.

Militants have looted and pillaged many villages, causing their residents to relocate to safer areas, Ngenda wrote in an e-mail. Most people fled with few possessions and are currently living in makeshift grass huts that are inadequate to withstand the season's heavy rains.

In addition to food, ACT International is providing plastic sheeting, water cans, sleeping bags and other needed items for displaced households.

On Jan. 6, a peace conference began in Goma, North Kivu's provincial capital. It is hosted by the Congolese government and includes representatives from regional militia groups, civil society, religious communities and the international community.

The peace process is complicated by the presence of numerous rebel groups in the area. International observers report that various rebel groups are at war with each other as well as with the central government, and some factions are supported by neighboring countries.

Ngenda believes that much is at stake in the peace efforts. If they fail, the fighting could escalate further, dragging one of Africa's largest and poorest nations into a devastating regional war, he wrote.