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"The single largest impediment to the humanitarian response in the DRC is underfunding" - UN Humanitarian Chief

16 Nov 2017


ERC Mark Lowcock's remarks at the Member States briefing on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

This crisis rarely reaches the international headlines so I am grateful for the opportunity to brief you on the growing humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My main message today is that we can no longer deal with this crisis on a business-as-usual basis. The scale and scope of the humanitarian crisis has far surpassed what we estimated or planned for this year.

Over the course of the last year, we have witnessed a dramatic deterioration in the situation. Numbers can only tell part of a story, but they tell an important part.

This year, 1.7 million people have fled their homes in search of safety – an average of over 5,500 people every day.

  • There are now 4.1 million internally displaced people in the DRC, that makes it the largest displacement crisis in Africa.
  • More than 620,000 Congolese refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, 100,000 of them in the last year.
  • At the same time, dissipating violence in some areas has led nearly 1 million people to return to their homes, but often to find that the life they knew has completely disappeared.

Violence – and a failure to protect people and infrastructure from its effects – has also had a dramatic effect on food security. This time last year, 5.9 million people were severely food insecure. And today, it is 7.7 million people.

As we enter into 2018, more than 13 million people require humanitarian assistance and protection – that’s near 6 million more people than at the beginning of 2017. We suspect the number may further increase during 2018.

The situation is not just a protracted crisis, but also highly dynamic and rapidly evolving. Violence has taken hold in previously peaceful areas, and it has intensified in others. So it is one of the world’s largest and most complex humanitarian crises.

Decades of conflict and insecurity in the DRC have produced pervasive fragility and endemic poverty. More than 40 per cent of Congolese children are chronically undernourished. In fact more than 12 per cent of the world’s children who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition are Congolese, with around 1.9 million cases expected this year. One in eight severely malnourished children are Congolese.

Most people – the majority – have no access to clean water, which of course increases the risk of communicable diseases. The country is currently undergoing one of the worst-recorded cholera outbreaks of this decade.

Despite everything, the DRC generously hosts more than half a million refugees from neighbouring countries, mainly Burundi, the Central African Republic, Rwanda and South Sudan.

I want to say a few words on the situation in the Kasais in particular – that’s a previously peaceful part of the DRC that has witnessed terrible suffering over the past year and a half. What began as a violent uprising by a local militia was met with a strong response by State security forces. And in some areas, the ensuing violence has taken ethnic lines. Serious violations and abuses continue to be committed by all sides, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence. At the peak of the crisis in the Kasais, more 1.4 million people had fled their homes. Critical infrastructure, including more than 400 schools and over 300 health centres, has been damaged or destroyed.

And Violence has had a big impact on the food insecurity of millions of people across the Kasai region. There has been an eight-fold increase of severe hunger, leaving 3.2 million people in need of urgent support to meet their basic food requirements. The fighting has prevented farmers from tilling their land for two consecutive agricultural seasons — clearly the loss of a third season would be devastating.

There has been, over the past three months, incremental improvements in security that have enabled around half of the people displaced in the Kasais to go home. But they remain highly vulnerable, as most fled with nothing and return to nothing. Their villages are left in ruins, with their homes, schools, businesses, health clinics and crops damaged or destroyed.

Access has improved over the recent months, and we have a window of opportunity to scale up to stop this acute emergency from becoming a protracted crisis. But we need your support to do that.

We have also witnessed a dramatic shift in the eastern provinces of Tanganyika and South Kivu.

In Tanganyika and neighboring provinces, long-simmering inter-communal tensions, and subsequent violent military operations have intensified since mid-2016. Some 277,000 people have been displaced this year, including 70,000 in the last month alone. Some 6,000 refugees have also sought asylum in neighboring Zambia and that number is growing. More than 1 million people are now severely food insecure.

In South Kivu, an upsurge in violence and insecurity has brought the total number of IDPs in the province to more than 600,000 with tens of thousands more yet to be verified due to a lack of resources. Humanitarians are expanding their presence and scaling up in these areas, but limited resources and insecurity have hampered these efforts.

Soon after the crisis erupted in the Kasais, many humanitarian agencies activated their highest levels of internal emergency response procedures. It was clear that greater collective action was required. In October, in consultation with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee heads, I activated a system-wide Level 3 Emergency, focusing on the crises in the Kasais, Tanganyika and South Kivu. This is an operational measure which is designed to mobilize international response capacity across the humanitarian system, it will help to accelerate and scale up the humanitarian response.

The Humanitarian Country Team and its partners have reached more than 2.7 million Congolese women, men, girls and boys with assistance and protection support this year. This includes 1.4 million people who have been reached with food support, 1 million people who now have access to portable water, and 157,000 people who have been treated for severe acute malnutrition. Humanitarian assistance is therefore saving lives every day.

We are all aware that aid organizations in the DRC operate in complex and challenging environment, where insecurity and limited logistics require innovative approaches to reach people in need. Bureaucratic and administrative impediments take up time and delay the delivery of aid. It is critical that authorities do all they can to allow the safe, rapid and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance. In this context, the reactivation of the strategic forum between the Government and humanitarians is timely and welcome. And we do want to see it deliver practical results.

But I want to be clear with you: the single largest impediment to the humanitarian response in the DRC is the shortage of funding. Funding this year is likely to be at the lowest level in a decade. Only US$385 million of the required $812 million under the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan has been received.

That means humanitarians can reach only 10 per cent of the 1.9 million severely malnourished people with life-saving nutrition support.

It means that only 13 per cent of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence receive the help they need.

It means that agencies have been faced with difficult decisions to cut back on programmes in areas of existing needs to scale up in areas of emerging needs.

Pooled funds, including the Central Emergency Response Fund, and the DRC Humanitarian Fund are playing a critical role in responding to emerging, life-saving requirements. The DRC Humanitarian Fund – which has delivered $1 billion to people in need since it was set up in 2006 – has allocated nearly $11 million to front-line responders this year. A further $24 million will be allocated in the coming weeks. In line with our Grand Bargain commitments from the World Humanitarian Summit, since last year 80 per cent of DRC Humanitarian Fund allocations have gone directly to NGOs, including 25 per cent to national NGOs.

Early this year, the CERF was quick to respond by allocating nearly $10 million to scale up activities in the Kasais and Tanganyika. Some $10 million was also provided to support refugees who fled DRC to Angola. In September, I approved an additional $14 million in CERF grants to bolster the response to the increasing displacement across the country and the upsurge in cholera. This year, CERF is the second largest contributor to the DRC Humanitarian Response Plan and to the cholera response.

Despite – perhaps even because of – the many challenges the DRC has faced over the years, there is a lot of innovation in all aspects of the humanitarian response. It was here that the idea of a Common Humanitarian Fund was in fact first developed. DRC gave birth to the first Rapid Response Mechanism. And the SPHERE standards were created in the DRC. The humanitarian community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the first globally to adopt the Core Humanitarian Standards as a system-wide yardstick to promote the quality and accountability of the response.

So let me just summarize the three requests I want to make today:

Humanitarians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have the systems, the know-how and the capacity to save lives, but they do not have the money. Without more money, lives will be lost. I hope by activating a Level 3 emergency we are demonstrating the urgency with which we must all act. I hope that you can persuade decision makers in your capitals to give the same priority to the DRC as I and my IASC [Inter-Agency Standing Committee] colleagues have done.

Second, we have to find solutions to address the root causes of the worsening crisis. While the violence persists, all parties must take steps to spare civilians and the infrastructure they rely on. But until the violence halts, millions of people will be denied the prospect of a dignified life. I ask all those with the capacity, duty, and influence to ensure that the causes of the crisis are urgently addressed.

And thirdly, as we look beyond the immediate scale-up of humanitarian assistance, we also need to focus more effectively on long-term development solutions critical to the long-term stability of the country, and safe, dignified and prosperous lives for all, including those who have been displaced internally and beyond borders. The humanitarian community will be a willing partner, having already moved to multi-year planning, to allow for the full extent of linkages between immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term development approaches.

I will close with a message from my colleague David Beasley of the World Food Programme who just went to the DRC, and he went particularly to the Kasais where he met people whose lives have been uprooted by violence. He is clear: what people want most is peace – peace to be able to grow their own food, to rebuild their lives and to create a brighter tomorrow for their children. It’s a simple, powerful request, and one I hope we can all work together to achieve.

Thank you.


Photos: OCHA/Ivo Brandau