Humanitarian workers in the Congo are trying to help thousands of hungry people in camps in north and central Katanga province, but said they were overwhelmed and did not have enough food supplies to prevent severe malnutrition.

Jan Peter Stellema, a project coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said up to 20 people were dying each week in one of three camps at Dubie, where nearly 20,000 civilians have sought shelter.
 
"There is no reason for malnutrition rates to go down, because there is not enough food. I see people eating manioc skin, which is usually thrown away or fed to the pigs."

Forthcoming elections

Medics in the eastern Congolese town of Kevo also say that they are fighting diseases linked to malnutrition.

Doctors Without Borders at work
Photo: Aljazeera

A paramedic with Doctors Without Borders organisation told Aljazeera: "We treat about 2000 children annually. Most of them used to come from the nearby villages as the regions lying in the east fall under the control of the Interahamwe rebels.

The other regions are swarmed by the Mai Mai rebels along with other fighting factions. We are constantly plagued by our inability to access certain distant regions where security is lacking."

Since November, Congolese army troops have launched major operations against Mai Mai militias, forcing tens of thousands of civilians to seek shelter in the camps.

The fighting is taking place as Congo prepares to hold its first free, democratic elections in 40 years in June, in the hope to end decades of war, dictatorship and chaos.

"With the help of God, we arrived here," Kalobwa Ngoy said as she held her skeletal 10-year-old son, who was on a drip in an MSF feeding centre in Dubie.

"But I have already lost three children since the fighting in November, one of them in a bed over there," she added, pointing to a bed across the room.