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Humanitarian situation worsens in DRC

Ineke Mules
May 10, 2017

The Kasai crisis has led to the largest population of internally displaced people in the whole of Africa as aid workers struggle to respond amid increasing violence and political instability.

Demokratische Republik Kongo UN Friedenstruppe in Kinshasa
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Bompeng

A dramatic increase in violence between security forces and the Kamwina Nsapu militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has led to the internal displacement of a record 3.7 million people.

Clashes initially began in August 2016 in the Kasai-Central province but have since spread to four other provinces.

The conflict was initially sparked after the militia attacked local police and called for an insurrection of the central government.

Over the past month thousands of people in affected regions have begun fleeing to neighboring Angola, stretching resources in villages along the border.

On 25 April the United Nations (UN) launched a fresh $64.5 million USD (59.3 million euros) emergency response appeal in order to provide life-saving assistance to 731,000 people over the next six months.

Humanitarian crisis

Prior to the current Kasai crisis, the DRC already faced acute humanitarian problems, with more than 4 million people suffering from hunger and 3.5 million children under five facing malnutrition.

Rein Paulsen is the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the DRC and will be visiting a number of key European capital cities this week in order to draw attention to the conflict. He told DW from Berlin that a rapid response by the UN and other aid organizations is key in order to prevent further deterioration of the humanitarian situation.

"We are talking about funding life-saving interventions. This is to respond to the needs of people that have had to flee at short notice, are sleeping under the open stars, are exposed to violence, and a series of other urgent needs," he said.

"Even with the initial funding, clearly the needs outstrip what we have, which is why we've launched the flash appeal and we've increased the overall amount required," Paulsen added.

Prior to the current emergency appeal, the UN launched a Humanitarian Response Plan for 2017 which was intended to reach approximately 6.7 million people in all parts of the country which were identified as vulnerable. However less than 20% of the original budget has been spent so far.

"It really is a very very concerning situation and we need to mobilize resources in order to respond to these very urgent humanitarian needs. It requires our best staff and our best capabilities and it requires the kind of flexible and responsive strategy that we've put in place."

Kongo UN Friedensmission in Munigi
UN peacekeepers and other aid organizations are finding it difficult to address the current crisis in DRCImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Moore

Aid organizations struggle to respond

However aid workers are finding it increasingly difficult to address the deteriorating situation in DRC.

Many face the risk of attacks and are unable to access areas in most need of humanitarian assistance.

Since the beginning of 2017, almost 3,000 incidents involving violence or direct threats against aid and development workers have been reported.

On 28 March the bodies of two UN security experts alongside their interpreter were found in the Kasai Central province.

They were in the region to assess a sanctions regime imposed on DRC by the UN Security Council when they disappeared on March 12.

Paulsen said the UN places a high priority on the safety of its workers in the region.

"We continue to place the highest possible premium on operating as securely as possible, because at the end of the day if we're not able to continue our operations, it is the Congolese who have been displaced who are going to suffer if programs are shut down."

The huge geographic area of the conflict and the lack of front lines also complicates the response strategy. 

"We know that the situation is fluid, we have a series of activities that we can implement quickly in areas where access is easier, where the situation is a little bit more calm, places where people have come precisely to flee from the violence," Paulsen said.

"[We also] allow rapid interventions in locations where access is more of a challenge."

Political instability remains rife

The Kasai crisis continues to unfold in the wake of a wave of violence across the DRC following President Joseph Kabila's failure to step down the end of his constitutional mandate in December 2016.

A new expanded government was revealed on Tuesday, as part of a power-sharing deal with the opposition in an attempt to ease tensions over the president's intent to remain in power.

DRC President Joseph Kabila remains in power despite reaching the end of his constitutional mandateImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. D. Kannah

Opposition leader Bruno Tshibala was named Prime Minister following the resignation of Samy Badibanga

Although the new government has again reiterated an election will take place by 2018, the reality of this occurring is unlikely, as political analyst Benoît Kamili told DW.

"The Congolese people needed this government, but from what we have seen and heard I have to say that there's no difference between Tshibala and Badibanga," he said.

"I don't think that Tshibala will organize the elections." 

Kablia has held office since 2001 and was widely accused of serious electoral fraud in 2011, which has plunged the DRC into a long-term political crisis.