EU preps for DRC donor conference as crisis worsens

Internally displaced persons from E.P. La Gloire in the Democratic Republic of Congo extract and transport sand from Lake Tanganyika's shore to construction sites in the city of Kalemie to get some money. Photo by: ©UNHCR / Colin Delfosse

BRUSSELS — 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.

Androulla Kaminara, a director at the Commission’s humanitarian aid arm, ECHO, said Tuesday that “the intention is to put more visibility on this crisis to try and mobilise more funds.” However, she told members of the European Parliament’s development committee in Brussels that the funding challenge is “huge,” with foreseen needs doubling since last year to $1.7 billion in 2018.

“In a context where there are multiple, very big crises in the world and humanitarian needs are increasing globally, reaching anywhere near that figure would be a huge challenge,” she said.

The conference, to be held in Geneva on April 13, will be co-chaired by Christos Stylianides, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid; Mark Lowcock, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch foreign minister.

World Food Programme DRC lead calls for urgent donor conference

The World Food Programme's country director for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Claude Jibidar, speaks to Devex about the country's funding and assistance needs amid the world's biggest displacement crisis.

The World Food Programme’s DRC country director, Claude Jibidar, told Devex the conference was a chance to address a “rapidly deteriorating” crisis, with WFP currently able to meet only 30 percent of its funding requirements for the next six months.

Without progress, Jibidar said “conflict, hunger, and displacement, within DRC and across borders, could otherwise destabilize the entire Central African region.” Kaminara said there are already half a million Congolese in neighboring countries, including the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Burundi.

Late last year, there were an estimated 4.1 million displaced people in DRC, with 7.7 million Congolese considered food insecure and 1.9 million children suffering acute malnutrition.

Based on her January visit to Kinshasa, the capital in the west of the country, and to the central Kasai province, which has spiralled into crisis in the past two years, Kaminara predicted the situation in 2018 was set to get worse.

“You see a combination of political crisis, underdevelopment crisis and a humanitarian crisis all in one,” she said.

In November, EU member states called on President Joseph Kabila to respect the date for fresh elections of Dec. 23, 2018, after he backtracked on a previous commitment to hold a vote and leave office by the end of last year.

There are currently 120 armed groups in the country, Kaminara said, making it difficult for humanitarians to arrange safe access to conflict zones.

She added that U.N. aid efforts also need to be better coordinated, and welcomed the appointment of Kim Bolduc in November as deputy special representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In addition to security and distance, Kaminara said “bureaucratic hurdles” were also impeding aid workers.

“The system in place is such that in order to access the airport you always have to pay tax, and in this the humanitarians are not excluded,” she said, adding that making aid cheaper and quicker to deliver was her top priority in meetings with officials in Kasai.

Stylianides intends to visit the country ahead of the Geneva conference, Kaminara said, “to assess the situation on the ground and potentially be able to announce substantial amounts for the 2018 response to the DRC crisis.”

Last year, the EU and its member states contributed $200 million.

Nirj Deva, a Conservative member of the European Parliament from the U.K., was among those arguing for more information from aid workers to help identify local leaders driving the conflict.

“You have the people on the ground, better than any intelligence service, any CIA or whatever,” Deva told Kaminara. “You have people there in every village and you should be reporting back to us what you know.”

The ECHO official responded that under humanitarian principles it was not the role of aid workers to say who should be arrested, adding that there were international observers in the country.

“Our primary concern is not in any way jeopardising the access we have to people and not in any way putting at risk the humanitarian personnel, [who] under extreme conditions are delivering aid on the ground,” she said.

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    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.