Interview: Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo

11 February, 2013
30 Jan 2013: Women harvest sesame in Popocabaka, Bandundu Province. The project has been funded by the Food Security Pooled Fund. Poor harvest and chronic poverty are among the causes of food insecurity in Western Congo. Malnutrition rate in Bandundu Province has increased to 14,8%. Source: OCHA/Gemma Cortes
30 Jan 2013: Women harvest sesame in Popocabaka, Bandundu Province. The project has been funded by the Food Security Pooled Fund. Poor harvest and chronic poverty are among the causes of food insecurity in Western Congo. Malnutrition rate in Bandundu Province has increased to 14,8%. Source: OCHA/Gemma Cortes

An estimated 6.4 million people across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are food insecure, including 2 million children who are acutely malnourished. About 2.7 million people, mostly affected by recurrent conflict in the east of the country, are internally displaced.

In November 2012, heavy fighting between government forces and the rebel group M-23 led to the displacement of about 150,000 people in the eastern province of North Kivu, which is now home to some 914,000 displaced people, the largest concentration in the country.

UN agencies and humanitarian partners have launched a Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) for 2013, appealing for US$892 million to help millions of people affected by conflict, food insecurity and diseases such as cholera. The plan is aimed at enabling aid organizations to reach nearly 4 million people with food, water, shelter, healthcare and education.

Humanitarian Coordinator Moustapha Soumaré talks here about the humanitarian situation in DRC.  

Q: What are your priorities for 2013?

All areas are seen as priorities, however we have set objectives. The first objective for us is the protection of civilians because during crises, civilians face abuses that affect their dignity as human being. Reducing death rates related to diseases is also a major objective. During the crisis in North Kivu, one of the biggest challenges was the cholera epidemic.

Q: The HAP seems to focus largely on eastern DRC. What about western and central provinces of the country?

As humanitarians, we prioritize areas where there are crises; where lives are threatened and where the situation is the most acute. So far, eastern DRC is the most critical region but that does not mean that we will abandon the other regions. Some of the western and central provinces do face acute humanitarian problems, but the difference is that these problems are not related to insecurity or forced displacements. We are addressing these problems but we are more concerned about areas facing active crisis.

Q: You took office just a few weeks before the M-23 crisis in November last year. What are your plans moving forward?

Although no one anticipated the crisis, the humanitarian community was prepared to respond to the situation right away. The level of preparedness allowed aid organizations to deliver aid, at times in very difficult situations. The constant movement of people rendered the humanitarian response difficult.  Due to international and national commitment, and preparedness, we were able to help people affected by the crisis. I hope that the same commitment from the government, the donors and the greater international community will continue, and that the crisis is not going to be a forgotten crisis. We need to continue having the means to save lives and support the government.

Q: How do you assess the government’s role over the past few months?

Humanitarian response in the DRC is first and foremost the government’s responsibility and humanitarian actors are here to support the government. During times when the government is over-whelmed, humanitarian actors have intervened to make the difference. During the recent crisis in Goma, we received strong support from the government.

Q: What do you expect from the government?

We hope that the government will work towards strengthening the humanitarian environment, both for international and national organizations. We also look to the Government to do all it can to resolve the crisis in the east.

Q: Do you expect much support for the appeal?

People are suffering and we have to find the means to assist them. We have no reason to doubt the continued support of our donors. Last year, we received 70 per cent of the requested funding of $792 – donors know that the situation is dire.

Q: Humanitarian organizations have been providing assistance in the DRC for over a decade now. What impact has this had?

Unlike development activities, where sometimes there are visible results such as a newly built road, humanitarian action is about saving lives and sometimes it is difficult to measure that. Although it is difficult to assess the impact, we are working on how to measure our effectiveness. Saving lives and helping displaced people return home is one way we can measure the impact.

Q: What is your outlook for 2013?

We hope that the situation stabilizes, and that development actions can truly start taking hold throughout the country. We need to start looking towards rehabilitation and development across the country.