October 30, 2017 / 4:19 PM / 2 months ago

WFP chief gets pledge from Congo's president on food aid access

GENEVA (Reuters) - President Joseph Kabila has agreed to help aid reach a region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where ethnic conflict has spawned a humanitarian emergency, the head of the U.N.’s World Food Programme said on Monday.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley said he had also asked Congo’s Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala to waive $9 million in administrative fees the organization had paid to the government, saying the sum could feed tens of thousands of people.

“This country is destabilizing and it needs attention because if we don’t give the attention now it could impact the entire region,” Beasley told reporters by phone from Kinshasa.

The conflict in Kasai region turned Congo into the world’s biggest displacement crisis this year. Although many people have started going home, Beasley said Congo still had about 600,000 children on the brink of starvation and 7.7 million severely malnourished people.

While visiting Kasai, where WFP has 1 percent of the $135 million needed for the next eight months, he said he saw horror in the eyes of women and children as they told of beheadings and brutality.

“The Kasai region, it was rather appalling, in ways that are truly hard to explain, in ways you actually don’t want to explain,” he said.

Beasley said he met Kabila for about 45 minutes before meeting ministers and explained that the trust of aid donors needed to be rebuilt and that the government must provide access, safety and visas.

“He gave me his assurances that he would do everything possible to address any and all needs that we brought to his attention,” Beasley said.

Beasley, a former governor of the U.S. state of South Carolina, told Congo’s prime minister that WFP had paid the government $9 million in administrative fees “just for access, just for being here”, and asked him to scrap the fees.

“As I told the government, the prime minister, and the ministers, if you take that $9 million and I‘m feeding people at 31 cents a day, you can do the math - that’s 75,000 people, give or take, that we can feed in an entire year,” he said.

Asked about the $9 million, government spokesman Lambert Mende said: “That’s the first time I’ve heard of anything like that.”

“We know that we have humanitarian needs because many people (in Kasai) are returning to their homes and we are working with our partners on that,” Mende said.

Beasley said there was donor fatigue but addressing the Kasai situation immediately would save lives and money.

Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Janet Lawrence

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