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10 November 1999

Press Briefing



At a Headquarters' press briefing this afternoon, Bill Paton, United Nations Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for the Republic of the Congo, spoke of the grave humanitarian crisis the country faced and efforts of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations to help the affected people.

He said there were 810,000 displaced and recently returned persons in the country. About 100,000 of them had reached the coastal town of Port Noire, while a couple of hundred thousand others had reached the capital city of Brazzaville. He said about half a million were still in the interior of the country.

Mortality rates were shockingly high among the population, due to the suspension of food production, reduced food imports, and large population concentration in some areas. A recent survey of returnees from the Pool region indicated that in August there was a death rate of nearly 2 per cent, mainly from malnutrition and related diseases. He said the sample might not be perfectly indicative of the situation, but it was the best they had. There was little reason to think that the situation in July or September was any different.

"Somehow, the message [of the humanitarian situation] didn't get out", he said, adding that the situation was a sad one. There were similar mortality rates in other areas of the country.

The first overland delivery of humanitarian aid to the internally displaced persons began in October. It was the first overland access to an affected area this year. Mr. Paton said he saw many people who he thought would not be alive a few days later. He also saw many mass graves.

Mr. Paton said that, strange as it might seem, the situation in the Republic of the Congo was improving. It was part of the story that was most difficult to get across because "the humanitarian needs are so grave". The reason why information was filtering out was because many more people were now able to return to their towns of origin to tell their story.

The military situation was stable, he continued. "We're now beginning to see the opportunity to open up access to the affected region", he said. The government had provided soldiers to escort the first few humanitarian convoys into affected areas in the interior, but much more needed to be done to provide secure access to other areas.

Many non-governmental organizations, particularly Caritas, were playing a critical role, as were some United Nations agencies such as the World Food

Republic of Congo Press Briefing - 2 - 10 November 1999

Programme; the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization.

Mr. Paton said, in response to a question, that there seemed to be some aid fatigue as regarded assistance to Africa. But he also said it had not been possible for assistance to be sent to the interior of the Republic of the Congo because of the fighting. Assistance had been delivered to the people of Brazzaville and the other coastal town of Pointe Noire, which were safe.

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