Congo-Kinshasa: Civil Society Organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo Call for a Complete Ceasefire Across the Country to Tackle the Coronavirus Pandemic

Women and children rest against a tent in the General Hospital site in a makeshift site in Bunia, in Ituri province (file photo)

"End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world."--Antonio Guterres

On 10 March, the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo reported the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Kinshasa. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded in six other provinces, three of which are already ravaged by conflict and the Ebola virus.

On 23 March, the UN Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire as the Coronavirus pandemic began to affect countries across the world. He appealed for parties to the conflict to end hostilities in order to "help create corridors for vital aid" and "open precious windows for diplomacy".

The DRC is one of a number of countries where armed conflict continues to drive people out of their villages, forcing them to live in camps for displaced persons or with host families in appalling conditions (more than 5 million internally displaced persons, as well as 15.6 million in need ).

139 civil society organizations based in the Democratic Republic of Congo have called for a complete ceasefire across the whole of the country, which has to contend with the novel coronavirus and Ebola virus in stable regions such as Kinshasa, as well as in provinces affected by conflict, including Ituri, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu.

"As was the case in responding to Ebola virus, technical, financial and security challenges constrain efforts on the ground to combat the pandemic. Provinces already weakened by armed conflict and ethnic tension risk being more heavily impacted.

The provinces of Ituri, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu already have confirmed cases of Covid-19", report civil society organizations based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The actions of armed groups in parts of these provinces risk undermining the response to the pandemic by preventing local communities from accessing response teams, humanitarian aid workers and resources to tackle the virus.

The DRC continues to be gripped by a severe humanitarian crisis due to conflict, as well as unrest in some provinces. Covid-19 has added to an already worrying humanitarian and security situation", the DRC-based civil society organizations added.

Armed conflict and ethnic tensions in the east of the country, as well as a humanitarian crisis and unrest brought about by poverty and economic instability, continue to weaken the government's ability to respond to challenges. Effective responses to these crises are crucial for the government and humanitarian aid agencies, as they will determine the effectiveness of the national effort to tackle Coronavirus.

A complete ceasefire is essential during the Coronavirus pandemic to facilitate the efforts of response teams and to ensure that humanitarian aid can reach vulnerable groups. Conflict can play a role in spreading viral infections during a pandemic, in view of its role in displacing communities.

Cooperation and the commitment to a complete ceasefire by all parties to the conflict are the only means of controlling and restricting population movement whilst efforts are ongoing to tackle Coronavirus", the DRC's 139 civil society organizations noted.

"All parties to the conflict should announce and honor an immediate ceasefire. The ceasefire should also provide a roadmap towards lasting peace in provinces affected by recurring conflict", urged the DRC-based civil society organizations.

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