NAIROBI, 11 May 2005 (IRIN) - Ongoing insecurity is the cause of deteriorating levels of nutrition among people in the south-central province of Kasai Oriental in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the UN Mission there known as MONUC, reported on Monday.
"The worst famine-hit areas in the Sankuru District [in Kasai Oriental Province] include Kole, Tchumbe and Lubefu, located within the 500-km range from [the provincial capital] Mbuji-Mayi," Patrice Bogna, the information focal point for MONUC's Humanitarian Affairs Section, said in a statement detailing the mission's weekly humanitarian highlights.
The UN Word Food Programme (WFP) has not confirmed the areas as "famine-hit", but has said that several of its partners have reported high malnutrition rates in Sankuru.
WFP Information Officer Aline Samu told IRIN on Tuesday that the agency had not been able to start food distribution because of "logistics access" and "increased needs in eastern DRC". However, she said WFP was establishing a field office in Mbuji-Mayi.
"This will ease the management of food consignments," she said.
She added that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had just launched several needs assessment missions to the area, in which WFP was participating.
Bogna said a new mission by OCHA and several humanitarian partners was planned for 16 May to 3 June to assess the needs of communities in key areas.
He said that during a recent inter-agency meeting in Mbuji-Mayi, the humanitarian community put the level of malnutrition affecting children from six to 59 months at 24 percent in Sankuru. Food insecurity, he said, continued to worsen with "pillaging, physical violence and other exactions perpetrated by Mayi-Mayi combatants".
He added: "Unconfirmed information also suggests that some 300 Pygmies have fled to neighbouring forests in Lomela, near Mbuji-Mayi, as a result of harassment by armed soldiers."
Therefore, Boga said, MONUC was sending military observers and humanitarian personnel to review the situation.
The so-called pygmies, known as the Batwa, are forest-dwelling hunters-gatherers indigenous to central Africa.