Josette Sheeran, director of the World Food Programme (WFP), just visited the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She heard first-hand the stories of attacks on civilians and children being recruited to fight.
WFP is providing food aid to 150,000 people in the North Kivu province who have been displaced by fighting between the government and rebel groups. Sheeran said, “we’ve heard story after story of tremendous suffering among the people here and violence that has been perpetrated on them — and we condemn that violence and echo the call for increased stability.”
Josette Sheeran speaking to a woman at an internally displaced persons camp in Katsiru (North Kivu) where WFP provides food rations (WFP photo)
If peace can be restored, opportunities await to rebuild the country. Sheeran noted that the land in North Kivu was extremely fertile, giving hope for boosting local agricultural production.
WFP is working to provide the food aid needed for people to survive and bring some level of stability. This includes vital food assistance to former child soldiers and their families. There is also emergency school feeding taking place. But this is just one part of an overall peace process for the DRC.
Security has to be established so reconstruction can take place and people can resume their lives. There needs to be disarmament of the rebel groups. However, how this disarmament takes place is an issue. The charity Oxfam says, “All parties should step up non-military efforts to disarm the militias,” citing the importance of dialogue.
Oxfam also noted that, “Over the past year there have been multiple reports of militia fighters reporting for disarmament and integration into the army or police but finding no provision has been made for them, and returning to the bush.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is far from the borders of the US and allies. For this reason, it may not be on the radar of the government or the public for that matter. Helping to end a conflict and build peace in a distant land may not seem to be a high priority. However, it should be part of our national security strategy.
General Andrew Goodpaster, former aide to President Dwight Eisenhower, once wrote about why resolving conflict in any part of the globe is in our national security interest. He said, “The consequences of inaction are clear: armed conflict devastates communities and the lives of individuals directly affected, creates refugees, disrupts international commerce, undermines international norms, and fosters regional and, in some cases, global instability. Thus, international efforts to deal with conflict should be viewed as having a bearing on national security.”
Food, of course, plays a critical role in any peace process. It is vital there be adequate resourcing for operations carried out by WFP, Catholic Relief Services, UNICEF and other agencies.
Dena Gudaitis of WFP says the agency is about 90 million short on funding for its DRC operation which aims to reach 3 million people nationwide. WFP was founded out of the Food for Peace principle. Low funding for the organization will only harm international security efforts in the DRC.