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UN Keen To End Humanitarian Crisis in Congo

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By Richard Johnson | IDN-InDepth NewsReport

GENEVA (IDN) – Stepped up violence among ethnic groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the second largest country in Africa, has led to a serious humanitarian crisis, displacing thousands of people who live in hostile conditions, according to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). The world body and its partners are, therefore, appealing for $30.5 million to assist some 59,000 people in DRC's eastern province of North Kivu.

“The North Kivu Response Plan is our answer to the loss and suffering endured by thousands of people these past months,” said the Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in DRC, Barbara Shenstone. “We want to provide families with aid to cover their most basic immediate needs while looking ahead to restoring their livelihoods.”

Clashes between the fighters from the 23 March Movement (M23) and the DRC’s national army have lessened but North Kivu remains highly insecure due to the proliferation of weapons, sporadic fighting between armed groups and the army, and inter-community tensions, the agency said on January 17.

Furthermore, 500,000 people have been displaced since April due to M23-related activities, including some 150,000 people who fled their homes during heavy fighting in mid-November. Today, North Kivu – which is four times the size of Belgium – is home to some 914,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), the largest concentration in the country.

The UN's six-month plan, which was initiated in December 2012, addresses humanitarian needs in and around the city of Goma and in the neighbouring territories of Masisi Centre and Kitchanga, which have been the most affected by the recent violence.

According to OCHA, the first phase of the plan aims to provide emergency assistance in all camps for IDPs through blanket aid distributions, while promoting their return and the evacuation of public buildings. During the second phase, humanitarian agencies will provide aid to those who return to their homes so they can resume their lives, and, in the third stage, aid organizations will provide a more holistic assistance package to the displaced who decide to remain in the camps.

One of the most pressing concerns for aid organizations is to improve the water and sanitation infrastructure in IDP camps, as drinking water is scarce, which has contributed to outbreaks of cholera and other water-borne diseases. Health partners are also looking to renovate clinics and replenish looted medicine stocks.

Aid agencies are estimating that some 320,000 people will need agricultural assistance, and about 13,000 children will need specialized feeding to fight off malnutrition in the coming month.

Moreover, some 300 schools will have to be renovated and an about 240,000 children will need, among other things, extra classes, school material, and psychosocial and recreational activities to help them overcome recent trauma.

The response plan also addresses the security and protection of civilians, a paramount priority for the aid community.

“While Goma remains calm but tense, new displacements are occurring every day elsewhere in North Kivu with thousands seeking safety in neighbouring South Kivu. Many, notably children, risk death, injury, recruitment into armed groups and abuse,” said UNICEF’s representative in the DRC, Barbara Beintein.

She added, “We urge all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and to respect international law so that humanitarian agencies can continue to reach and attend to those affected.”

The six-month plan is part of an $892 million country-wide action plan that will be launched in a few weeks in the capital, Kinshasa.

Remote possibility

And yet, as the Global Cooperation Council think-tank points out, peace would appear to be a remote possibility in this country formerly known as Zaire. The Second Congo War, beginning in 1998, devastated the country and is sometimes referred to as the "African world war" because it involved nine African nations and some twenty armed groups. It officially ended in July 2003 when the Transitional Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo took power; however, hostilities have continued since then.

Part of the reason ist also that the Congo has 70% of the world's coltan, and more than 30% of the world's diamond reserves, mostly in the form of small, industrial diamonds. The coltan is a major source of tantalum, which is used in the fabrication of electronic components in computers and mobile phones. In 2002, tin was discovered in the east of the country, but, to date, mining has been on a small scale.

Smuggling of the conflict minerals, coltan and cassiterite (ores of tantalum and tin, respectively), has helped fuel the war in the Eastern Congo. Katanga Mining Limited, a Swiss-owned company, owns the Luilu Metallurgical Plant, which has a capacity of 175,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of cobalt per year, making it the largest cobalt refinery in the world.

After a major rehabilitation program, the company restarted copper production in December 2007 and cobalt production in May 2008.The Democratic Republic of Congo also possesses 50 percent of Africa's forests and a river system that could provide hydro-electric power to the entire continent, according to a UN report on the country's strategic significance and its potential role as an economic power in central Africa. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 17, 2013]

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Women in Kitchanga, eastern DRC, washing clothes in a water source that is also used for driking and cooking. Photo: OCHA-Goma/Imane Cherif

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