UN says widespread food aid cuts loom in Congo

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GENEVA (AP) - Food aid is being cut back in Congo due to lack of funding that could affect hundreds of thousands of hungry people, the World Food Program said Tuesday.

The U.N. agency says its $478 million plan to feed 4.2 million people in Congo through Dec. 2015 is only 25 percent funded, and without more money it won't be able to help 300,000 internally displaced people in North Kivu province. The agency did not identify any countries or other donors that had failed to provide help for the program.

For the past six months, WFP has already been forced to cut by half its rations given to those people in North Kivu, one of the areas in eastern Congo with a myriad of armed groups blamed for killing and raping civilians.

Because of a lack of contributions to feed the country, the WFP "is being forced to start a significant down-scale of activities in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Equateur, Kasai and Orientale," said agency spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, adding that the cutbacks will affect school children, refugees and people in Food-for-Work programs.

The agency has been providing food to a half million people in North Kivu, including a third of the 900,000 displaced people in the entire province. Around Goma, the provincial capital, there are five makeshift camps with more than 150,000 displaced people.

Starting next month, though, WFP says its food stocks in Goma will be almost exhausted. And because of the difficult logistics the next delivery of food, bought with a U.S. contribution of $30 million, will not be made until March or April 2014,

One of every 10 children in the country already suffers from acute malnutrition, and 6.3 million of the country's 66 million inhabitants face hunger and need food assistance, the agency said.

Byrs told reporters in Geneva the agency urgently needs $75 million to continue its plan, but without it some 500,000 people in North and South Kivu and Orientale provinces will be affected.

"The provision of daily hot meals to thousands of schoolchildren is likewise jeopardized, as is life-saving nutritional support to some 180,000 malnourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers across the country," she said.

The U.N. agency said it also is talking with local and government leaders to find alternative ways of helping children, people with disabilities or chronic illness and others who are particularly vulnerable.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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