"Urgent and sustained funding" for a Government-led response to what is now a "massive and protracted" humanitarian crisis across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is required, said the head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN relief chief on Thursday.
Following on from a fact-finding mission to DRC this week, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and the UN's top Humanitarian Affairs official (OCHA), Mark Lowcock, said the funds were urgently needed to meet the needs of children, families and vulnerable communities, including people with disabilities.
"The relatively peaceful political transition taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is an opportunity that we must seize on," the top officials said in a statement, referring to the first peaceful transfer of power following elections on 30 December.
"We can beat back the massive and protracted humanitarian crisis. But we urgently need donors to provide further generous funding as needs continue to outpace resources," said Mr. Lowcock, adding that the DRC needs sustained international engagement to create the conditions for peace, security and long-term development.
While the country has made progress in recent years in some areas, including a drop in the number of children dying before they reach the age of five, the overall humanitarian situation remains alarming. Around 13 million went hungry last year, compared with 7.7 million in 2017. At least 4 million children are malnourished, while cholera, measles and Ebola "continue to blight many lives".
"Severe acute malnutrition is expected to hit 1.4 million children under the age of five this year and put them at imminent risk of death," said Ms. Fore. "In conflict-affected areas of the country, children and young people have been recruited as fighters, sexually assaulted and denied education, health and protection services. Together, the international community and the new government can - and should - do better for children."
In Kinshasa, the two officials held constructive talks with newly-elected President Félix Tshisekedi who reiterated the Government's commitment to leading the humanitarian response across the country.
In Goma, in the eastern province of North Kivu, they visited a centre delivering care and assistance to women, including survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. They also met rape survivors who were receiving medical, psychosocial and legal assistance, with support from UNICEF and partners.
In Bunia, Ituri province, the pair visited a site for those internally-displaced, where they met mother-of-four, Janette Dusi Lasi, who was wounded and lost her husband when their village was attacked.
'Work with local people' to beat Ebola
Ms. Fore also traveled to Beni and Butembo where she visited Ebola treatment facilities, as the outbreak continues, with concerns that the fight against the disease is stalled, due to recent attacks on medical facilities. She then went to day care centres where Ebola survivors, now immune to the virus, look after small children whose mothers are undergoing treatment and who themselves are at risk of developing the disease.
Children account for one third of all Ebola cases - more than in any previous outbreak. Over 1,000 children have been separated from their parents or have been orphaned due to Ebola.
The two officials agreed that successful elimination of the current Ebola outbreak required above all greater and more effective community engagement. "Only if local people are fully involved and consulted can the outbreak be defeated," said Mr. Lowcock. "That means engaging them actively in the response, as well as doing better to meet their wider needs, on the basis of priorities local people themselves express. Insecurity and the activities of armed groups are a real problem - but what is needed above all is to listen to and work with local people."