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Mercy Corps Reaches Families Torn by Conflict in Congo

DR Congo, May 7, 2008

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  • Mercy Corps Reaches Families Torn by Conflict in Congo
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matthew De Galan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Congolese children, displaced by brutal violence, wait to receive water for their families. Photo: Matthew De Galan/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matthew De Galan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps staff helps displaced people at a community water distribution point. Photo: Matthew De Galan/Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps is helping more than 50,000 displaced people meet their most basic needs in areas of conflict-ravaged northeastern Congo near the Rwandan border.

Mercy Corps is helping alleviate suffering along the country's war-torn eastern edge, where tens of thousands of people are fleeing their homes where fighting rages between government and rebel forces.

The United Nations World Food Programme has estimated that continuing violence is preventing tens of thousands of Congolese from receiving food aid. Mercy Corps is working on solutions to not only bring such critical supplies to families, but also ensure longer-term prospects for food security.

Through a generous grant from The Hunger Site, we are piloting an innovative new approach to help families feed themselves: small "kitchen gardens" constructed from burlap sacks, soil and rocks. These tiny yet productive plots take up less than 50 square centimeters of space, but can produce as many vegetables as a two or three square meter garden plot. Some of the vegetables planted include carrots, cabbage, onions and leafy greens.

While our sights are set on sustainability and long-term objectives, our response began — and remains rooted — in emergency assistance to displaced families.

In September 2007, working closely with the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations, a Mercy Corps team helped distribute food and water to 2,500 families in Mugunga, a town seven miles southeast of the embattled city of Sake. The Mercy Corps team also aided in the provision of plastic sheeting, food supplements, jerry cans, children's clothing, mosquito nets and blankets to an estimated 5,000 families.

Mercy Corps has also helped Caritas and the World Food Program distribute 60 tons of grain, beans and cooking oil to 10,000 displaced people — the first major food distribution in the area since an epic influx of families fleeing violence.

Today, we are are providing 450,000 liters of water each day to 50,000 displaced persons in the Rutshuru area, ensuring a supply of clean water that helps keep families and children healthy. We have also constructed more than 400 latrines to improve sanitary conditions and keep preventable diseases at bay.

However, this aid and assistance is being delivered under extremely dire and dangerous circumstances.

Congo emerged in 2003 from five years of war involving Rwanda, Uganda and other countries in the region. As many as 5.4 million people died, most from hunger and disease as the country's economy, health system and infrastructure collapsed.

Clashes between local and regional militias have renewed fears of a resumption of the war — which lead to more deaths than any conflict since World War II.

Fighting displaced more than 200,000 people throughout 2007 in North Kivu province, home to six million people. Since January 2008, an additional 75,000 have been forced from their homes.

Nationwide, some 1.2 million Congolese are displaced due to conflict. Life expectancy has dropped by 10 years in the past decade and 20 percent of children die before reaching age five, one of the highest rates in the world.

The needs throughout northeastern Congo are immense. War-weary families are struggling to protect and provide for their children.

Until lasting peace allows them to return home, they need our help. Mercy Corps is on the ground to meet those needs.