United Nations Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides, and Minister for Foreign, Trade, Development Cooperation of The Netherlands Sigrid Kaag during the Humanitarian Conference on the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Photo by: European Union

BRUSSELS — Donors mustered less than a third of the annual funding needed for the Democratic Republic of the Congo at a pledging conference in Geneva on Friday, which was boycotted by leaders of the central African nation.

President Joseph Kabila’s government said the United Nations had overstated the severity of the crisis, where the global body says more than 13 million people are in need of assistance.

Donors on Friday hit $528.1 million in pledges for this year, well short of the DRC’s needs, which are estimated at $1.68 billion. The U.N. refugee agency is also seeking $508 million to help roughly 800,000 Congolese refugees in surrounding countries.

EU preps for DRC donor conference as crisis worsens

The European Commission, United Nations, and Dutch government will co-host a pledging conference in April to address the "huge" humanitarian challenge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where millions of people are displaced by conflict. Without urgent help, many leading aid figures are warning of a rapidly deteriorating crisis, Devex reports.

“Of course, we would have been thrilled if we had reached full financing,” Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator told reporters. “We were never expecting that to be the case. That’s never what happens. What we have done though … is make very good progress. I wasn’t expecting we would reach $530 million in pledges today to be honest with you.”

He said governments are working on additional pledges and “it’s obvious that we will get a better financed response for the DRC this year than we got last year, and we need to.” Last year’s DRC response plan calling for $813 million attracted just $467 million. Lowcock said this year, 15 donors are pledging at least a third more than they did in 2017.

The top five pledges for 2018 come from the United Kingdom ($141 million), European Commission ($95.2 million), United States ($67 million), the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund ($47.8 million), and Belgium ($30.9 million). Associated Press reported that Lowcock could not immediately specify what proportion of the $528 million represented fresh pledges, and when asked by Devex neither could the European Commission.

Christos Stylianides, the European Union’s humanitarian commissioner, tweeted that he was “very pleased” with the amount pledged for this year. “A few months ago, the humanitarian crisis in the #DRCongo was almost forgotten by the world,” he wrote. “Not anymore.”

Via Twitter

Yet Norwegian Refugee Council secretary general Jan Egeland expressed disappointment with the outcome in a statement. “More donor countries need to step forward, and those that are already contributing need to do more to stop this humanitarian tragedy,” he said.

According to U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 7.7 million people are food insecure in DRC, and 4.3 million are internally displaced. The NRC has also warned of dwindling numbers of humanitarian groups in North Kivu, with just 25 protection actors in the region in November, down from 45 midway through last year.

The government played down the scale of the problem however, with its ambassador to the U.N., Zenon Mukongo Nga, telling the BBC, "We have our own figures which should be compared with U.N. figures."

The government was also angry it had not been involved in the organizing of Friday’s conference, and it told Associated Press it would refuse access to NGOs financed by countries that have sanctioned Congolese figures.

Belgian deputy prime minister and minister for development, Alexander De Croo, called the government’s absence from the conference “incomprehensible.” Switching from English to French he said Congolese leaders must take the crisis seriously, and that progress would require “functional and transparent” institutions and “credible and inclusive” elections.

Kabila failed to step down at the end of his two-term limit in 2016 and donors have called for a peaceful handover of power at elections due in December.

About the author

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.