Off-the-radar humanitarian crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Article, 12.01.2018

Several provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have fallen prey to violent clashes. Civilians are fleeing en masse to escape death, and the humanitarian needs are colossal. Given the deterioration in the situation, the SDC has stepped up its humanitarian response, allocating additional funds and expertise.

Distribution of first-aid items and cash to people
NGOs supported by Switzerland have distributed first-aid items and cash to people in the provinces of Lomami and East Kasai. © SDC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been hit by a number of humanitarian crises over the last 20 years. In addition to epidemics and natural disasters, the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa has been affected by violence that frequently has its roots in the struggle to gain control over territories and natural resources, as is particularly the case in the Tanganyika, South and North Kivu regions. 

Some 4.1 million of the DRC’s total population of around 80 million are internally displaced persons – the largest number in the whole of Africa. In addition, the DRC hosts more than half a million refugees from Rwanda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Burundi. Another thought-provoking figure is the 7.7 million individuals who depend on food assistance to escape hunger. 

One of the worst crises, according to the UN

The previously peaceful Greater Kasai region in the centre of the country has been plagued by violent clashes since August 2016. This vast territory, twice the size of Switzerland, has seen the spread of intense fighting between government forces and followers of a traditional chief killed by the former. Some 1.4 million people have been forced to leave their homes to escape the violence perpetrated by both sides. 

The situation has escalated to such an extent since last summer that the United Nations has decided to place the DRC on its list of the most serious humanitarian crises at present, alongside Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The UN has also earmarked some USD 1.68 billion in aid for those in need throughout the country, double the amount required in 2017.

Flexible involvement to cover exponential needs

In this extremely volatile context, Humanitarian Aid of SDC has adopted a flexible approach. In 2017, it delivered almost CHF 10 million in funding to meet the most pressing humanitarian needs. Thanks to this amount, protection and medical assistance were provided to displaced people and support given to those households that opened their doors to the latter. 

Already active in the Kivu provinces in the east of the country, Humanitarian Aid of SDC has extended its activities to the Greater Kasai region in response to this new emergency. Together with its partners, it has undertaken several measures to protect those fleeing the violence, providing them with access to water, food and a temporary roof over their heads. Its contributions to NGOs are rounded out by the support it provides to the ICRC and the World Food Programme (WFP), which operate throughout the country.

Emergency aid in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo 

Swiss Humanitarian Aid has also seconded members of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) to its UN partners. A logistics expert works for the WFP in the Kasai region, distributing food to internally displaced persons and their hosts. Two other SHA experts spent the whole year working for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the areas of protection, protecting children and combating gender-based violence in camps for Burundian and South Sudanese refugees in eastern DRC. 

A fourth expert is stationed at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Kinshasa, with the aim of ensuring coordination among the various civilian and military resources (UN organisations, Blue Helmets, Congolese army and NGOs) deployed in the DRC. Further SHA experts will be seconded in 2018, depending on where needs lie. 

As the DRC is a priority country for the SDC, its humanitarian activities there complement various well-established development programmes. This combination allows the resilience of the population to be strengthened, while at the same time responding to emergency situations.

2017 – a difficult year for Africa and humanitarianism

The crises in the DRC come on top of the famine situation in other African countries, such as north-eastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia. All of these crises are human in origin – conflict. Add Yemen, Syria and Iraq to the list and 2017 put a severe strain on humanitarian organisations’ financial and human resources.