7 June 2018

Congo-Kinshasa: Alarm Bells Ring As the World Hits the Snooze Button

Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation/
A woman walks at an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Bunia, Ituri province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo tops several lists that would make any nation proud. It is the largest sub-Saharan African nation. It is regularly listed as one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources. But there is one list we, at NRC, wish the Congo was not a part of-that of the most neglected crises in the world.

DR Congo tops the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) annual list of neglected displacement crises, which launched this week. It is not the first time the country has been named as one of the most neglected and forgotten conflicts in the world. If things don't change, it won't be the last.

The NRC list is based on three criteria: the lack of media attention, funding and political and diplomatic initiatives. In the Congo, we have witnessed how these three factors have become a toxic mix for civilians, who are neither protected nor receiving necessary relief, when their villages are attacked or burned, and when they are repeatedly forced to flee.

The list is our desperate cry for change.

Large unmet needs

NRC, and many humanitarian organizations just like us, have been shouting in vain about one of the world's largest and most grave mega-crises. Unfortunately, it appears that for whatever reason, the world goes deaf, blind and dumb when it comes to the plight of the 13.1 million men, women and children in desperate need of assistance in the Congo.

There is no clearer evidence of the international apathy towards the plight of the Congolese than the disappointing results of the Global Donor Conference for DR Congo in Geneva this past April. The participating nations pledged USD 528 million - a lackluster result, which amounted to only a third of the USD 1.7 billion required to cover humanitarian needs. Worse yet, many of the pledges have yet to be fulfilled.

How did we get here?

The unrest simmering in the Congo is beginning to boil over, and has resulted in a surge in violence. The violent uprisings of local militia spread rapidly across the previously peaceful Kasai region in August 2016, causing massive waves of displacement. Further east, in Tanganyika province, warring between two ethnic groups has led to colossal humanitarian needs. In the Kivus, fierce clashes between armed groups caused renewed displacement.

World leaders have failed to see the enormity and gravity of the humanitarian crisis in DR Congo-instead chalking this up as 'business as usual'. It is not the case. The situation is much worse than it has ever been. Conflict is causing people to find refuge in neighbouring countries, and creating an environment that is ripe for a regional crisis.

Tough priorities

The lack of attention and funding means that aid organizations like ours, have had to make impossible choices. We are constantly forced to decide which communities should receive aid, and which must survive without. Because of the rising number of people who need our support, the little available relief must be parsed among a growing number of communities.

Last December, I visited a territory in Tanganyika province, where people had been on the run since May 2017. None of them had received assistance since arriving in their host community. I encountered face after face of bone-tired women, who have had to work the fields from sun up to sundown, just to feed their children. They often forego meals for the sake of their youngest. I saw that children roamed the streets aimlessly in tattered clothes, because their parents did not have enough to pay for their school fees. Amid torrential rains, whole families were housed under flimsy, mosquito net tents, because humanitarian funding for dignified shelters were not deemed a ´priority'.

It does not have to be this way. The people of DR Congo can be helped. The choice is clear, it is crucial and it is urgent. The alarm bells have been ringing for far too long. It is time we wake up.

Ulrika Blom is the Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has worked in DRC for five years, and in the humanitarian field since 2006.

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