August 2012, DRC: A young displaced boy waits at water point in Kanyaruchinya IDP camp in the outskirts of Goma. Credit: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti
Only long-term solutions can break the vicious cycle of conflict and poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says Fidèle Sarassoro.
Decades of conflict, massive displacement, chronic poverty and food insecurity affect millions of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The number of people displaced by violence in the vast Central African country has risen by more than 25 per cent to 2.24 million people since the beginning of this year. In North Kivu, in the east, more than 700,000 people are currently displaced, many of them since early 2009.
The World Food Programme says some 5.4 million people in the east face chronic hunger and malnutrition. Humanitarian and development organizations are working to provide emergency aid and promote long-term solutions. But insecurity and limited funding are affecting their work; the DRC humanitarian appeal, which is requesting US$791 million this year, is only 47 per cent funded.
In this interview, Humanitarian Coordinator Fidèle Sarassoro, who is leaving the country after over two years of service, talks about the importance of addressing the root causes of poverty and conflict.
Q. As you prepare to leave DRC, what memories and images have stuck with you?
I am leaving the country with some very vivid memories of the places that I visited. I have met displaced families like the ones in Katanga who had walked more than 450 km in search of safety. I also remember meeting women who had survived sexual violence, malnourished children and the communities traumatized by years of conflict. The loss of some aid workers will also stay with me. All these visits were very touching. It’s a time of mixed feelings. It was during these visits that I could see for myself the pain and suffering, and talk directly to the people. But at times, I also felt a bit powerless as we could not respond to all of the needs.
Q. The Congolese humanitarian crisis has been going on for more than a decade. Can you share some thoughts on where you see things heading?
The humanitarian crisis is complex and is a consequence of years of conflict and a weak state. Finding long-term solutions remains a challenge, but it is still the only viable way of breaking the vicious cycle of conflict and poverty.
I trust that the humanitarian community will find ways to address the emergency needs, but addressing the root causes requires more effort. For example, in eastern DRC, where there is ongoing conflict between armed groups, access to land and natural resources should be at the centre of the political and diplomatic discussions. Moreover, the country faces structural problems in a number of areas. Long-term solutions to these problems require bridging humanitarian and development needs so that the investments made today in emergency responses are tied to improving the delivery of basic social services. I believe we need to move away from a project approach to a more comprehensive view where we focus on the most pressing social services.
Q. Despite the pressing needs, the appeal for the crisis remains underfunded. Is there donor fatigue?
Our donors have been generous and I would like to thank them for their contributions. But, yes, there is a donor fatigue: the crisis has been ongoing, but there is also a global financial crisis and competition for humanitarian financing. Donors want the Congolese Government to find ways to address the root causes of the crisis, and they want us to convince them that their contributions do make a difference.
Without their support, the situation could be worse. Their importance goes beyond money: they’ve also contributed in pushing the debate on how to improve the delivery of services to those who need it.
Q. Can you share a few words on the collaboration between the Congolese Government and the humanitarian community?
The collaboration with the Government is positive, and I am particularly optimistic now that the new Government has shown its enthusiasm and openness to work together with international humanitarian partners. In some areas we have achieved tangible results and in many others we are working on improving the humanitarian situation. We are establishing a Cadre de Concertation Humanitaire, a high-level consultation platform, to better coordinate the partnership between the humanitarian community and the Government. The Congolese authorities have to deal with many issues, but they’ve always kept their doors open to address our concerns and suggestions.
Q. Do you have any advice for your successor, Moustapha Soumare, who is scheduled to start on 1 October?
My successor comes with a lot of experience so I wish him lots of success. The job is challenging in more ways than one, but it is worth it.
Reporting by OCHA DRC