Despite significant progress towards peace in the strife-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the international community must keep humanitarian aid flowing into a country where nearly 3 million people, half of them children, are currently displaced, according to the United Nations.
“We are united by the goal of responding to the needs of the most vulnerable in the DRC,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt said over the weekend at the end of a high-level joint visit with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
“Significant progress towards peace has been made. However, the situation is complex and children and women continue to be displaced by violence. Increased international support is necessary to cover their basic needs, such as access to safe and clean water and nutrition assistance.”
The DRC has been torn apart by civil wars and factional fighting since it became independent from Belgium in 1960, but with the support of a series of UN missions a measure of stability has been restored to much of the vast country over the past decade.
Fighting between the Government and a variety of rebel and sectarian groups, however, has continued to devastate the eastern regions, particularly North and South Kivu provinces. One major dissident group, the M23, was defeated by the national army with UN support last month, but skirmishes with various groups continue, driving yet more civilians from their homes.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 2.9 million people are currently displaced by conflict within DRC, more than 60 per cent of them in North and South Kivu.
The UN officials visited South Irumu in Province Orientale, where fighting between the Congolese army and militia groups has displaced an estimated 120,000 people since August.
“Insecurity has disrupted the livelihoods of these people, and we are committed to continue supporting them, both in the areas where they seek refuge as well as back in their communities once they feel that conditions are in place for them to return,” WFP Assistant Executive Director, Ramiro Lopes da Silva said after meeting displaced people and host communities in a makeshift site near Lagabo in Ituri district.
“In the meantime, we will continue to advocate on their behalf to donor governments for adequate resources to be made available.”
The three also visited programmes in the Mungunga III camp near Goma, North Kivu, and met the DRC authorities, humanitarian partners and people affected by the conflict.
“People in some parts of the country continue to suffer and are being displaced because of violence,” UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations Janet Lim said. “We need the support of the Congolese authorities, civil society, humanitarian organizations, the development sector and donor countries to consolidate the recent progress towards peace and stability throughout the country and to put a total end to conflict and displacement.”
Insecurity in the east of the vast country, including Katanga province, has sparked repeated population displacements. It is estimated that about half of internally displaced people (IDPs) are children. Equateur province, where peace is being restored after inter-ethnic clashes in 2009 and 2010 forced 200,000 people to flee their homes, now hosts more than 50,000 refugees from the war-torn Central African Republic (CAR).