DRC: Top aid official warns of worsening crisis in Katanga Province

17 Feb 2014

September 2013, Katanga, DRC: The sun rises over Tanganyika Lake in Katanga Province, south-eastern DRC. The lake was one of the sources of a cholera outbreak that affected 13,700 people in Katanga in 2013, one of the many challenges to befall this traditionally stable part of the troubled country. Credit: OCHA/Gemma Cortes
The number of people displaced from their homes in Katanga Province in south-eastern DRC has increased eightfold since 2011.

The UN’s top humanitarian official in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has warned that the number of people displaced by violence in Katanga Province is rising at an alarming rate.

“There are now eight times more internally displaced persons [in Katanga] than three years ago,” said Moustapha Soumaré, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC. “With a worsening security situation, many more could be displaced in the coming weeks.”

There are an estimated 402,000 people displaced in Katanga, compared with 51,000 in March 2011. More than 2.9 million people are displaced across the entire country.

“More internally displaced people means more emergency needs. We need to find solutions and ensure that the civilians here do not feel forgotten,” said Soumaré.

The triangle of death

Insecurity remains the main driver of displacement in Katanga, a mineral rich province in southern DRC that has traditionally been viewed as comparatively stable and economically productive.

However, since September 2013, over 60 villages have been burnt down as part of a scorched earth campaign by Mayi Mayi combatants in the northern territories of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto - an area that humanitarian organizations refer to as "the triangle of death".

The Pweto area alone is home to 160,000 people forced to flee their homes because of violence, representing 36 per cent of the total internally displaced population in the province.

Aid operations at risk

The growing insecurity in Katanga is also hindering the efforts of humanitarian agencies to deliver support.

For example, food experts estimate that thousands of people living in the triangle are severely malnourished. However the insecurity means that aid groups are unable to bring in enough food and support. With each day that passes, dozens of people — mainly children — slip into malnutrition, opening the door to disease, infection and death.

Last year, health personnel recorded 13,700 cases of cholera — the most of any province in the country. The deadly disease took longer to contain in areas plagued by insecurity.

“Insecurity is an element of planning but it has never prevented us from delivering aid. But it has made it much harder,” said Joseph Inganji, the acting head of OCHA in DRC. “On numerous occasions, aid convoys to Katanga were forced to transit through Zambia, a detour that cost both money and time.”

The Mayi Mayi – named for the Swahili word for “water” – are responsible for more than half of the forced displacements in the province, according to figures compiled by OCHA.

Cholera, school canteens, ex-child soldiers

With seven UN agencies and about 50 NGOs present, Katanga has the smallest humanitarian community of DRC’s four eastern provinces. Despite this, and despite the security concerns, aid groups are managing to reach people in need.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners distributed more than 11,000 tons of food in 2013 – enough for 690,000 people. Its school canteen programme was pivotal in keeping children in school. This long established initiative provides children with daily hot meals, a service that at times extends to other family members.

In 2013, the OCHA-managed Pooled Fund allocated money to the NGOs Solidarités International and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to improve water and sanitation facilities and fight cholera in Katanga. A further allocation helped the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) rescue several hundred children from armed groups. 

More attention needed

The worsening situation in Katanga is forcing UN agencies and NGOs to increase their presence and capacity in the province. OCHA has strengthened its operations in Katanga with two additional staff and other agencies are looking to follow suit.

“The situation in Katanga is critical. It requires more watchful attention, more actors, and more funding,” said the UN’s Soumaré. “We need to scale-up our humanitarian response if we are to pull the province back from the brink of a wide-spread crisis.”

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