Christian charity Food for the Hungry International has begun the rehabilitation of 500 km of railroad between the provinces of Maniema and Katanga in southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the organisation reported on Tuesday.
"This project will provide a strategic connection between the northern and southern areas of eastern DRC," the charity said.
It said that a US $1 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) would help fund the project. It is estimated that some 3.85 million people would benefit from using the repaired railway.
The charity said the repaired rails would run between Kindu, the main town in Maniema, and Ngwena, 48 km south of Kabalo in Katanga. This includes 489 km of track and one railroad bridge at Zofu, 12 km southwest of Kabalo.
It said it was undertaking the railroad repair following security improvements in Katanga and Maniema as well as progress made in the country's peace process, which had resulted in the opening up of areas previously inaccessible because of the civil strife that started in August 1998.
The charity said that food security was a major obstacle to good health and productive lives for many families in northern Katanga, and that the repaired railroad would give the population a better chance of attaining food security.
"The war has in effect suspended railway operations as well as caused widespread pain and suffering among the population in the immediate areas, greater region and nation," it reported.
It said the war's effects on the rail service - bombing, services cut off due to displacement of people, pillaging of facilities and equipment - had left the Maniema-Katanga railroad inoperative.
Many kilometres of the railroad require clearing of undergrowth, the removal of mud and soil, and the replacement of damaged rails.
"Other work will include the replacement of culverts, spot drainage, miscellaneous landscaping, fencing, signage and installation of signposts at former station locations and strategic places," the charity reported.
It said the rehabilitation would result in a significant expansion of trade, tourism, and movement of goods, minerals, people and services. Upon completion, it said, the country would have an additional 489 km of railway line, which would serve as an engine for the economic, political and social recovery.
"The project will also provide greater access for humanitarian interventions that will play a significant role in assisting the Congolese," the charity said.
At the same time, the charity reported that it had received a $1.5 million grant from USAID/OFDA to continue its work with families affected by the conflict in the east.
The programme will benefit up to 252,000 people in South Kivu and northern Katanga provinces, with activities planned through the end of May 2004, the charity reported. It has been operating agricultural programmes in eastern Congo since 1997, in North and South Kivu and Katanga provinces.
The planned activities include seed and tool distribution to 15,000 families, assisting government agricultural extension workers to update their skills, work with mothers of 10,000 malnourished children by teaching them vegetable cultivation and work alongside 20 co-operatives to restart fish farming in the region.