ROME, 19 November, 2002 -- A country where 73 percent of the population is undernourished, where 2.2 million people are displaced, where 1.9 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition and where the situation is worsened by an infrastructure in ruins and cut-off agricultural supply lines. This is the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"When you look at the situation and the needs, international help ought to have been pouring in," says Fernanda Guerrieri, Chief of FAO's Emergency Operations Service. "But it didn't, even though a fragile peace agreement was crafted in the beginning of 2002." Of the US$24.7 million requested by FAO via the United Nations Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal 2002 (CAP 2002), less than a quarter (23 percent) came through.

"It is the 'CNN effect," adds Ms Guerrieri. "The conflict in the Great Lakes Region has been going on for so long that there is no more media interest. And no media attention equals limited donor money. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a forgotten emergency."

Despite the lack of funds, much was achieved. FAO's focus was on identifying and helping communities most affected by severe malnutrition. FAO:
  • provided tools and seeds to grow vegetables and food crops to more than 500 000 families;

  • distributed nets and fishing gear to 20 000 fishing households;

  • offered nutrition training to families with malnourished children in feeding centres;

  • set up quality seed production in communities in stable areas; and

  • initiated rehabilitation of selected "feeder roads" to enable transportation of agricultural products from farming areas to cities to make trade possible.

With improved security, it is now possible to reach people and areas that have been inaccessible for years. "Even if a new crisis breaks out and access is no longer possible, at least we got them new tools and seeds, so people will be able to cope for a while," says Ms Guerrieri.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has a very strong civil society, and the involvement of hundreds of local non-governmental organizations is crucial to all the project activities -- from seed and tool distribution to repair of roads and bridges. "We could not have achieved as much with the limited funds available without the involvement of the grass-roots organizations," Ms Guerrieri says.

The funds for the 2002 activities came mainly from the European Commission and the governments of Belgium, Japan and Sweden. All in all, US$5.7 million was donated in response to the CAP 2002. " But just imagine how much more could have been done and how many more people could have been helped had we received the full amount asked for," laments Ms Guerrieri.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is also included in the 2003 Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal. The agricultural component, for which FAO is responsible, amounts to US$12.3 million. It emphasizes distribution of agricultural and fishing tools, support to households with children in feeding centres, production and distribution of quality seeds, breeding of small livestock, rehabilitation of agricultural feeder roads and aquaculture, plus coordination of emergency agriculture operations.