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Democratic Republic of the Congo: Relief for northern Katanga

13-12-2001 News Release 01/49

Rain was falling last Tuesday on the airport outside the Congolese town of Kalemie as Operation Pepa got under way. An ICRC-operated DC-3 took off towards the south, launching an extensive distribution of seed and other basic supplies to the inhabitants of 39 villages belonging to the Kilunga group near the Zambian border. The droning of the old ship's motors will be heard often in the coming days as it flies back and forth between Kalemie and Pepa, a short distance from Kilunga.

Some 3,350 families (almost 20,000 people) will each receive a large sack containing seed, farming implements, cooking pots, cups, a resettlement kit and blankets. " The Kilunga area, which is at an elevation of 2,000 metres and therefore cold, is inhabited by people who have been on the move a great deal these past three years " , explained the ICRC delegate responsible for northern Katanga province. " They're exhausted. "

Before the conflict broke out, people in the area worked together on large farms. These were emptied by the fighting and pillaging. As a result, local residents were no longer able to support themselves. Some from Kilunga fled to Zambia and have only recently returned, to a life fraught with difficulties.

" When we made our first survey here we found that, apart from anything else, the maize was not growing as it should " , said an ICRC agronomist. " The seed was as much as 40 years old. " To enable people to feed themselves, high-quality seed had to be brought in. But Kilunga is very isolated and doing so was no easy task. The supplies were first shipped from Goma across Lake Kivu to Bukavu. There they were transfer red to trucks for the journey to Uvira, where they were once again loaded on a vessel for the trip to Kalemie.

" We're delighted to see the operation under way at last " , said one delegate. " It's important to sow the seed immediately since there is only one growing season in the area, and that season is now. " The operation should be completed by Christmas.

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