UN humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore were in DR Congo, to see firsthand the extent of the ongoing humanitarian crisis, hear from humanitarian partners actively involved in the response on the ground, and meet with Government officials. Mr. Lowcock and Ms. Fore reiterated their call for urgent and sustained funding for the Government-led response to meet the needs of women, children, families and vulnerable communities including people with disabilities. President Félix Tshisekedi reiterated the Government’s commitment to leading the humanitarian response across the country.
“The relatively peaceful political transition taking place in the DRC is an opportunity that we must seize on. We can beat back the massive and protracted humanitarian crisis. But we urgently need donors to provide further generous funding as needs continue to outpace resources,” said Mr. Lowcock.
The humanitarian crisis in DRC is complex, multifaced and longstanding, and the numbers are shocking. 12.8 million people need humanitarian assistance to survive. Millions of people are internally displaced due to ongoing violence. Ebola and the spread of diseases such as measles, cholera and polio continue to claim lives. 13.1 million people face hunger. Of them, 4.2 million are children.
Millions of young lives at risk
The delegation visited child protection projects run by UNICEF. The crisis is hitting children particularly hard. Some 5.6 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance, protection and basic services. Despite an overall improvement in child mortality rates, one in ten children will not reach the age of 5. Close to 53 per cent of girls between 5 and 17 are out of school.
“Severe acute malnutrition is expected to hit 1.4 million children under the age of five this year and put them at imminent risk of death,” said Ms. Fore. “In conflict-affected areas of the country, children and young people have been recruited as fighters, sexually assaulted and denied education, health and protection services. Together, the international community and the new government can – and should – do better for children.”
Healing the wounds
They also visited the Heal Africa centre in Goma. More than 1 million women and girls have been raped DRC during the past 20 years of violent conflict. “The Centre helps survivors of brutal sexual violence”, Mr Lowcock said. “The UN and partners have helped 35,0000 women and girls last year, providing them with access to medical care, psychosocial counseling, legal aid and addressing stigma. But we need to do more.”
The ongoing fight against Ebola
DRC is going through its longest Ebola outbreak, which has killed close to 600 people since it started eight months ago in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. This is the tenth Ebola epidemic in DRC’s history, and humanitarian partners have been working around the clock to scale up their response activity despite the challenges and the limited funding. Children account for one third of all Ebola cases – more than in any previous outbreak. Over 1,000 children have been separated from their parents or have been orphaned due to Ebola.
The two officials agreed that successful elimination of the current Ebola outbreak required above all greater and more effective community engagement. They met with Health Minister, Oly Ilunga, to discuss the Ebola outbreak, as well as other diseases such measles, cholera and polio that are affecting the country.
“Only if local people are fully involved and consulted can the outbreak be defeated” said Mr Lowcock. “That means engaging them actively in the response, as well as doing better to meet their wider needs, on the basis of priorities local people themselves express. Insecurity and the activities of armed groups are a real problem – but what is needed above all is to listen to and work with local people”.
Humanitarian actors estimate that US$ 1.65 billion is needed to address the country’s humanitarian needs in 2019. To date, only 4.6 per cent of the required funding has been received.
“Disease outbreaks, conflict, natural disasters and sexual violence are among the challenges that keep the men, women and children of the DRC from fulfilling their full potential and make the humanitarian crisis in the country so uniquely complex,” Fore and Lowcock said. “We cannot stress enough the critical importance of funding.”