Crisis in Eastern DRC: United Nations agencies sound the alarm

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are sounding the alarm over the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Over the past six weeks, ongoing conflicts between armed groups and government forces have forcibly displaced more than 450,000 people in the Rutshuru and Masisi territories of North Kivu Province.

Among the displaced is Jean Baptiste Munyanzinza, now residing at the Bushagara refugee camp, situated about 20 kilometres north of the provincial capital. Munyanzinza shares the plight of many who have lost their homes and livelihoods due to attacks.

While we are here, we can access help for food. But we don’t want this life of begging. At home, we had fields, cattle, and we lived very well. The most important thing is to stop the war so that we can return home,” Munyanzinza emphasized.

As the country approaches elections, the primary concern for many, like Munyanzinza, is the restoration of peace. However, the UNHCR and UNICEF stress that the crisis is exacerbated by limited humanitarian access, with major routes obstructed, hindering aid delivery to those in need.

Despite efforts by UNHCR to build shelters for over 40,000 people near Goma and the distribution of essential kits, including tarps, cooking pots, and blankets, the international community is urged to address the obstruction of humanitarian access. Nearly 7 million people affected by conflict in eastern DRC require urgent assistance.

Recent protection monitoring reports from October reveal a disturbing surge in human rights violations, with over 3,000 reported cases—nearly double the figures from the previous month. Instances of rape, arbitrary killings, kidnappings, extortion, and property destruction are rampant, painting a grim picture of the region’s security situation.

Children are particularly vulnerable, as child protection partners report a 130% increase in violations between July and September 2023, adding to an already high number recorded earlier in the year.

Compounding the crisis is a significant lack of funding for humanitarian efforts in the DRC. The coordinated Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023, covering both UNHCR’s and UNICEF’s financial needs, requires $2.3 billion. However, as of today, it is only 37% funded, leaving a substantial gap in resources needed to address the escalating crisis.

“I just returned from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), witnessing the acute and complex humanitarian crisis unfolding, driven by the unprecedented conflict escalating food insecurity,” states an on-the-ground witness.

The situation is described as a forgotten crisis, with conflict, limited access, socio-economic and climate crises, and a crippling funding shortage creating a perfect storm. The eastern part of the country has become a hotspot for non-state armed groups, leading to massive population displacement and worsening an already fragile humanitarian situation.

Since March 2022, approximately 5.7 million people have been displaced in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri, contributing to a total of 6.2 million internally displaced people across the country—the highest number in Africa. Overcrowded camps are now home to millions who have no alternative due to the ongoing violence.

The protracted crisis has sharply increased large-scale needs, with millions living in precarious conditions and lacking access to clean water, health facilities, and agricultural land.

Despite being a country rich in resources, the DRC faces a paradox. As a significant producer of precious metals for modern technologies, it also has the highest number of food-insecure people worldwide. An estimated 25.8 million people, three times the population of Switzerland, are expected to face acute food insecurity in 2023.

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Dr. Florence Akano

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