World Food Programme DRC lead calls for urgent donor conference

World Food Programme's Democratic Republic of Congo Country Director Claude Jibidar talks to internally displaced people at the Kalunga camp in Tanganyika. 24,500 IDPs have been receiving food assistance since fleeing from their villages due to ethnically-based conflict. Photo by: WFP/Jacques David

BRUSSELS — The Democratic Republic of Congo is faring worse than humanitarian groups previously thought, and a donor conference is required to halt widespread starvation and disease as financial needs for the crisis have doubled, according to the World Food Programme’s country director, Claude Jibidar.

His comments come as aid groups warned on Wednesday that the displacement crisis in DRC is outstripping those in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, with 1.7 million people forced to flee their homes.

World Food Programme chief raises the alarm on growing hunger crisis in the DRC

World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley sounded the alarm about the growing crisis in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, calling on the international community not to let the crisis go unaddressed.

Jibidar said 13 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance, with many forced from their homes by fighting between rival militias and government forces in the Kasai region stretching from DRC’s southern border with Angola, Tanganyika in the south-east, and neighboring South Kivu, further north.

In November 2016, Jibidar and his colleagues had foreseen funding needs for 2017 of $812 million, he said.

“As of today we have received less than $390 million. But guess what? 2018 is an even worse situation than 2017.”

While numbers are still being finalised, he added that “we have basically seen a doubling of the financial requirement for the year 2018, compared to what we anticipated for 2017.”

Jibidar said DRC suffered from donor fatigue, as well as less pronounced links to the prevailing foreign policy priorities of the day: Halting migration and terrorism. He urged for a donor pledging conference to be held as soon as possible, on the understanding that “what we are facing is not the DRC as usual.”

“We need to make sure this is very clearly spelled out, even before any conference is envisaged,” Jibidar said. “Because if we call for a conference and the humanitarian community, the donors, the government, everybody agrees ... it needs to be successful.”

However, Jibidar told Devex that in parts of DRC cash transfers are not the answer.

“In areas like Kasai and Tanganyika, communities have not been able to cultivate for two or three consecutive seasons, and prices of food have soared more than 100 percent in certain circumstances,” said Jibidar. “We have to be careful about the way we make use of the cash modality.”

Cash assistance is given to refugees elsewhere in DRC, such as South Sudanese in the north-east and Burundians in the east, because there “markets do exist, they are solid, they provide the level of food that is required. But in the Kasai, at this point we would not envisage introduction of cash without creating major inflation, because there is a sheer lack of agricultural production. There would be no food for people to buy, even if they had cash,” he said.

United Nations human rights investigators speaking to refugees in Angola reported that 251 people were victims of targeted, extrajudicial killings in the Kasai region between March and June this year. Investigators found that in some cases, national army soldiers led the Banu Mura militia carrying out attacks on villages.

“The government is involved in quite a lot of these problems,” Jibidar said. He added that due to the country’s size, about two-thirds of western Europe, “what happens in those remote areas is sometimes a bit more complicated than what happens in the capital.”

Jibidar travelled to Brussels last week as a representative of humanitarian actors in DRC for meetings with officials from European Union member states, the United States, the European Commission and U.N. agencies.

In an interview with Devex, he said that part of the struggle for humanitarian actors is accessing those in need of assistance.

Jibidar said that despite the existence of a few refugee camps, most internally displaced people fled the fighting into the bush. Other IDPs are being hosted in schools or establishing makeshift huts in urban areas.

“Getting people into camps is probably the very last thing to do,” he said. “We are talking about hundreds of thousands of villages. The most important and most pressing [issue] is that people go back to their village of origin so that they can rebuild their livelihood … where peace has returned.” Once there, Jibidar said, the aim will be to team with development actors to rebuild and provide food and seeds for planting seasons until people are again self sufficient.

The European Commission has announced 152 million euros ($179.7 million) of funding for DRC in 2017, of which 35 million euros ($41.4 million) are humanitarian aid and 117 million euros ($138.3 million) development cooperation.

In October, the U.N. refugee agency and other humanitarian groups declared a Level 3 emergency in parts of DRC, the highest possible ranking.

“The UN system-wide L3 response is only activated for the world’s most complex and challenging emergencies, when the entire aid system needs to scale up and respond to colossal needs,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s DRC country director, Ulrika Blom, said at the time.

Read more Devex coverage on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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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.