DRC: A call for collective action in troubled east

21 October, 2013
September 2013, Katanga, DRC: A boy carries water to one of the many chlorination points that have been established by aid agencies in an effort to battle cholera in eastern DRC. Credit: OCHA/Gemma Cortes
September 2013, Katanga, DRC: A boy carries water to one of the many chlorination points that have been established by aid agencies in an effort to battle cholera in eastern DRC. Credit: OCHA/Gemma Cortes

The Emergency Directors of eight the world’s largest humanitarian organizations have begun a four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they will assess firsthand one of the world’s most protracted and complex humanitarian crises.

The group is being led by OCHA’s Operations Director, John Ging, and features the emergency directors of seven other UN agencies and one NGO: the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Mercy Corps.

They will travel to the eastern provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu where aid organizations have been toiling for years to assist millions of people affected by conflict, violence and chronic underdevelopment.

The Kivus are home to more than 1.6 million internally displaced people – almost 60 per cent of the 2.7 million Congolese who have been made homeless by persistent violence that has plagued the country for decades.

Violence, mining, and more than a million displaced

The DRC represents one of the largest operations for each of the organizations represented on this mission.

“The complex, multi-layered crisis in the DRC can only be resolved through collective action,” said Barbara Shenstone, the Head of OCHA in DRC. “This visit is to re-affirm that we believe that together we can alleviate human suffering, save lives, and restore peace and dignity.”

The visit comes as North Kivu has been caught in a fresh cycle of violence dating back to May 2012 when a new armed group – the M23 – surfaced. Since then, 700,000 people have been forced to leave their homes, swelling the number of people displaced in North Kivu to beyond 1 million.

Violence and allegations of gross human rights abuses have plagued the province for more than two decades. Different groups have battled each other for use of its rich mines and the years of instability have almost entirely undermined its socio-economic development.

South Kivu mirrors its northern neighbor. Armed groups crisscross the province as they battle for territorial control or flee from the national army. Almost 600,000 people there have been displaced by conflict. Cholera and other water-borne diseases are major public health concerns. As in the north, humanitarian organizations are forced to overcome insecurity and poor roads to ensure that aid gets delivered.

The Lord’s Resistance Army

DRC’s crisis is not constrained to the Kivus. Other parts of this vast central African country are also faced with severe and serious humanitarian concerns. In September, the north-eastern Orientale Province experienced a flare-up in hostilities between armed groups and national forces. This fighting sent over 80,000 people fleeing for their lives.

Orientale shares borders with the Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan and Uganda. It is the Congolese home of the feared Lord’s Resistance Army. According to a recent OCHA report there were 30 presumed LRA attacks in the first half of 2013. At least four people were killed and seven abducted. Today, there are 500,000 displaced people living in LRA-affected areas in north-eastern DRC.

An sign that the DRC has not been forgotten

The visit of the directors is a sign of the continued commitment of the international community, says OCHA’s Shenstone.

“This visits signals that the DRC, despite its long and complex nature crisis has not been forgotten”, she said.

In January, aid organizations appealed for US$892 million to assist people across the country. So far, $557 million have been received.

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