NAIROBI — As the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to escalate, limited funds have crippled the humanitarian response. This has left many affected populations without, or with limited, assistance, experts in the region say.
With some 4.5 million internally displaced people, the country has led the world in terms of the largest number of people that have been newly displaced for the past two years. The effects of the crisis have also spilled over into neighboring countries. More than 42,000 refugees have fled to Uganda this year, for example.
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DRC President Joseph Kabila refused to step down after his second term in 2016, which led to widespread unrest and violence. Along with political instability at the national level, localized intercommunal clashes, and the rise of militias, endemic violence has forced many Congolese from their homes. Elections were supposed to be held at the end of 2017, but were postponed, and are currently scheduled for the end of 2018. This week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned of “a humanitarian disaster of extraordinary proportions” in southeastern DRC as the violence in the province of Tanganyika escalates.
As the figures of those displaced continue to mount, there is not even enough capacity to conduct many of the humanitarian needs assessments of newly displaced people, Ulrika Blom, the country director for DRC for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Devex.
“They need to be assessed to see what kind of situation these people are in, where they are, and what assistance they need. If you don’t have those teams that can verify a situation, it will take a long time before there is a response,” she said. “There is some capacity, but it is not enough considering the scale of the crisis. We need many more rapid response teams.”
Humanitarian actors launched the largest ever funding appeal for the country this year, asking for $1.68 billion, to assist 10.5 million people. Only half of the $812.5 million that was appealed for last year was funded.
In the midst of insufficient funding last year, the country faced the worst cholera epidemic in 15 years with over 55,000 cases. Left with little assistance, some parts of the country have also spiraled into ‘crisis’ conditions for food insecurity.
“The lack of sufficient funding is the biggest barrier to the humanitarian response in the Congo right now,” Gregory Queyranne, program coordinator for the Danish Refugee Council in DRC, told Devex.
In places such as the Kasai region, some of the displaced people have been forced to return to their villages having never received assistance during their displacement, Blom said.
“This is of course very challenging because their houses have been burned down and they have lost all their property. The result is a massive increase in food insecurity,” she said.
In October, the U.N. activated a ‘Level 3 emergency’ in the Kasai Region, Tanganyika, and South Kivu Provinces. This is the highest level of emergency from the agency, seen elsewhere only in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. The emergency declaration prompted an uptick in the allocation of funds, but the funding has largely been targeted at those specific regions, Blom said. Because of the evolving nature of the crisis and its fluid boundaries, all of the areas in the humanitarian response plan need to see increases in funding, not just the ones outlined in the emergency alert, she said.
The European Commission, U.N., and Dutch government announced this week it will co-host a pledging conference in April for the humanitarian response in DRC.
Beyond funding, the humanitarian sector is restricted in its access to vulnerable populations by security concerns. Over the weekend, two aid workers were killed and another abducted by an armed group in North Kivu. The victims were working for the French nongovernmental organization Hydraulique Sans Frontières.