Humanitarian Catastrophe Looms in DR Congo

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Over the past year, the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has deteriorated at an alarming rate. IOM, the UN Migration Agency is appealing for $75 million (Sh7.6 billion) to urgently meet the growing needs of displaced Congolese and the communities hosting them in the eastern and south-central provinces of North and South Kivu, Tanganyika and the Kasai.

In recent months, fighting has spread to parts of DRC that had not seen such violence since the 1994-2003 conflict, which claimed millions of lives. This and large-scale hostility between communities has led to the internal displacement of 4.1 million people, making the DRC, the African country with the highest displacement of its population.

Violence in South Kivu, Tanganyika and the Kasai is estimated to have alone displaced 2.5 million of the total figure and new displacements are occurring daily in North Kivu. On average, over 44,000 people are being displaced each month. The country is also host to some 600,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, who are also in need of support.

“With so many humanitarian crises worldwide, the situation in DRC is at risk of being ignored while it develops into the biggest emergency of 2018,” says Mohammed Abdiker, IOM director of operations and emergencies following a visit to the country last month. “Robust funding and concerted action are urgently needed to stop already immense suffering from spiralling beyond the humanitarian community’s capacity to respond,” he says.

The deepening of the crisis in DRC is sparking rises in malnutrition, food insecurity and health epidemics, such as measles and cholera outbreaks, which are stretching to breaking point the current response capacity of the humanitarian community. An estimated total of 13.1 million Congolese will be in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and protection throughout 2018 with access to shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and health of particular concern.

“Due to ongoing fighting, access to those newly displaced is a major challenge to IOM’s response on the ground. Our teams are having to travel up to four hours on ‘safe routes’ to reach communities most in need,” says Abdiker.

Children, young men, women and ethnic minorities have been among the hardest-hit by the violence. More than 4 million children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition. Some 7.7 million people are expected to be impacted by the devastating effects of an acute food emergency, while 10.5 million have limited or no access to healthcare. An estimated 4.7 million women and girls will be exposed to gender-based violence (GBV) in crisis-affected areas in 2018.

“The rise in sexual and violent assault against women in DRC is shocking and bears a stark resemblance to the widespread targeting of vulnerable women and girls in the 1994-2003 conflict. The humanitarian community must do everything possible to protect them and assist survivors,” Abdiker appeals.

People forced to flee their homes and those returning to burnt villages face intense levels of vulnerability and are in urgent need of multi-sectoral assistance from the humanitarian community, particularity protection, including from GBV, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), shelter, education, food security and health.

In October, through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the humanitarian community declared the situation in South Kivu, Tanganyika and the Kasai to be a Level-3 emergency, which means that an urgent scale-up of humanitarian assistance, funding and capacity is needed to meet the growing needs.

IOM’s appeal is part of the larger humanitarian response plan, which is set to be released soon. IOM’s interventions will focus on camp coordination and camp management, displacement tracking, shelter and relief distribution, WASH, healthcare and protection, particularly responding to GBV.

“The historically low level of humanitarian funding is the single-most debilitating factor blocking humanitarian actors from providing lifesaving assistance in the DRC,” says Abdiker, adding, “By failing to secure the funding needed, thousands of displaced Congolese and host communities will be deprived of crucial protection and assistance and countless lives will be unnecessarily lost.”

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