A quarter-million civilians have been displaced in the region.
UN seeks to end fighting
Talks facilitated by the United Nations got underway in December in Nairobi to try and resolve renewed fighting in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The clashes have displaced up to 250,000 people in the already hard-hit region and threaten to embroil neighbouring countries. The talks, between the government and representatives of the main rebel group, were led by the UN Secretary-General’s newly appointed special envoy on the Great Lakes, Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria, and Benjamin Mkapa, the former president of Tanzania, who is representing the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
Fighting resumed in the eastern DRC in August when units of the rebel group, Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), led by Laurent Nkunda, began an offensive against the government army in North Kivu. With government forces falling back and other rebel militia becoming involved, the UN Security Council on 20 November authorized strengthening the peacekeeping force, the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), by an additional 3,000 troops. Some 90 per cent of MONUC’s 17,500 peacekeepers are deployed in the east. Although fighting subsequently eased, MONUC in early December warned that the security situation remained fragile, atrocities against civilians have continued and UN humanitarian agencies reported that they still faced great difficulties in reaching displaced and other vulnerable groups.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed that there cannot be a military solution to the conflict. Speaking at a special summit of regional heads of state in Nairobi in November, he warned that the conflict in the DRC, which he described as one of the worst human tragedies of our time, with more than 5 million lives lost over the past decade, could engulf the broader sub-region.
In presenting its final report to the Security Council in December, a group of experts monitoring the UN’s arms embargo on the country reported that it had found evidence that Rwandan authorities had facilitated the supply of military equipment and personnel, including children, to the CNDP, while Congolese government forces had provided support to the DRC-based, rebel Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), participating with them in joint operations against the CNDP.
Number of hungry growing
Another 40 million people joined the ranks of the world’s hungry in 2008, in large part because of high food prices, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The number of undernourished people in the world has now reached 963 million, the FAO says in its December report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008. The ongoing financial and economic crisis could force even more people into hunger, the report warns.
In 2007, one in three of sub-Saharan Africa’s population — some 236 million people — was chronically hungry, the highest proportion of undernourished people worldwide, according to the report.
Overall, the FAO says, Africa had made some progress in reducing hunger in recent years, with the proportion of the sub-continent’s population suffering from chronic hunger falling to 30 per cent in 2003-2005, down from 34 per cent in 1995-1997. Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and the Republic of Congo all made notable progress, with Ghana already reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target to halve the number of people living in hunger by 2015.
However, warned FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf at the launch of the report, any progress by countries towards the MDGs and other international targets risks being reversed by high food prices. “Nowhere,” he said, is the food crisis over.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Michel Sidibé of Mali as the new executive director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Mr. Sidibé’s career in global health began almost 30 years ago in Mali, where he eventually became country director for the international development federation Terre des Hommes. In 1987 Mr. Sidibé jointed UNICEF, serving variously in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and as country representative in Burundi and Uganda. Mr. Sidibé joined UNAIDS in 2001, and in 2007 was appointed deputy executive director of programmes. Mr Sidibé took up his new position on 1 January 2009, replacing Dr. Peter Piot of Belgium.