DRC Monthly Humanitarian Bulletin, 1 Oct - 15 Nov 1999
Office of the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for
the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Field Co-ordination Unit (OCHA/DRC)
Kinshasa, Goma, Bukavu, Kisangani
More than two months after its entry into force, the Lusaka cease-fire agreement (31 August 1999) has not yet provided the expected political and military breakthrough. The overall situation in the DRC is fluid and barely influenced by the timetable set forth by the Lusaka Accord. The Joint Military Commission instituted by the conflicting parties to monitor the implementation of the cease-fire agreement held two plenary sessions on 11-12 October and 31 Oct - 5 November in Lusaka. A political committee comprised of the belligerents’ foreign and defence Ministers noted on 15 October 99 that the “parties to the Agreement (had) generally continued to respect the cease-fire”. Conversely, the redeployment of all parties to defensive positions, the disarmament of groups non signatory to the agreement, and the launching of inter-Congolese negotiations – all expected to happen or start during the period under review – failed to materialise.
The JMC instituted four permanent working groups to be established in Harare starting from 25 November. Group I, which is headed by Namibia, is in charge of determining humanitarian corridors, exchanging prisoners of war and working with ICRC. The three other groups were set to:
- work out mechanisms and budget for the disarming, tracking and garrisoning of armed elements, and hand-over procedures for war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity;
- work out mechanisms and procedures for troop withdrawal and monitoring and verification of its implementation.
In the course of its proceedings, the JMC stated that any foreign organisation or association cannot operate on the ground without the approval of the JMC. This provision raised serious concerns amongst relief agencies that have been operating in the area since the outbreak of the war. If implemented, this provision would contradict the Principles of Engagement adhered to by the humanitarian community and might virtually paralyse humanitarian interventions.
While the frontlines identified by the Lusaka cease-fire agreement have held fairly well, with the exception of skirmishes and minor incidents that are considered inevitable by most observers, the beginning of November 99 was marked by several incidents and trends that some consider a U-turn in the belligerents’ commitment towards their obligations vis-à-vis the Lusaka agreement. Firstly, on 6 November 99, the MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba accused the DRC Government and its Zimbabwean allies of breaking the cease-fire on the northern front and threatened to suspend the cease-fire . DRC forces were reproached of having launched a massive offensive in the direction of Ikela-Opala, an advance that inflicted heavy civilian casualties. Secondly, persisting divergence over the itinerary and sequence of areas to be visited by the advance team of the UN Observers’ Mission in the DRC (MONUC) prevented the UN Military Liaison Officers (MLO) from conducting a technical survey on both sides of the front-line. The latter exercise is paramount in the decision to launch the next phases of multilateral intervention, namely, the deployment of 500 military observers, then 10,000 to 20,000 peace keeping forces. Only after the Secretary General’s Special Envoy, Mr. Moustafa Niasse, had visited Kinshasa on 8-10 November 99 and met with President Kabila, could the deadlock be resolved. The fist group of MONUC technical surveyors departed to Gbadolite on 11 November. The group will subsequently visit Goma, Kisangani, Bukavu and Kananga.
DRC authorities convened a national preparatory forum on the National Debate in Kinshasa from 6 through 8 October which was attended by members of civil society and church groups from areas currently under Government control and a very few representatives from the Kivus. A final declaration adopted by the forum urges the international community to ensure implementation of the Lusaka accord and to extend humanitarian assistance to victims of the DRC conflict. Although the DRC authorities stated that the deadlines fixed by the Lusaka agreement for calling a comprehensive national debate will be respected, the divergence between belligerents as to who will facilitate the debate persist. Banyamulenge community of South Kivu which was not represented at the preparatory forum, voiced its discontent for not being engaged in consultations and stated that “searching for peace in the Kivus without including the Congolese Tutsi will be a vain effort”.
The DRC / EU bi-lateral co-operation may be revived following a series of high level visits to Kinshasa during the reporting period. The French Minister, Delegate for Co-operation Mr. Charles Josselin announced the French government’s intention to gradually renew full co-operation with the DRC which “has been subject to a de facto embargo for almost 10 years” after meeting President Kabila on 22 October 99 in Kinshasa. The French initiative was subsequently qualified by RCD representatives in Goma as a support to genocide perpetrators. Implementation of the Lusaka cease-fire agreement, bi-lateral assistance and democratisation of the Congolese society were the issues raised by the British Foreign Office and Commonwealth regional director and the permanent secretary of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation during their meetings with the DRC officials respectively on 27 and 12 October 1999.
The intensified fighting between UNITA rebels and the Angolan regular forces and its proximity to the DRC territory, which was repeatedly used in October by Angolan belligerents for their military ends, created a significant nervousness in the DRC capital. In the course of October Kinshasa authorities made several references to a threat stemming from an alleged UNITA-RCD military co-operation. These allegations were subsequently refuted by the Goma based RCD leaders as well as by Jean-Pierre Bemba’s MLC, who in turn accused Kinshasa of launching a three-pronged offensive in Equateur province.
In a surprise move the DRC authorities established a curfew on 13 November 1999 in Kinshasa. Official explained this measure by the authorities’ intention to protect the civilians in view of an imminent attack of joint UNITA-MLC forces. The decision only applies to Kinshasa province. In any event local observers consider this extra security measure as an attempt to cleanse the city from “suspicious elements”, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Another hypothesis suggests that the DRC authorities are currently preparing an offensive (enforcement of troops, supply of arms and ammunition) which, if made in the open, would be seen as a violation of the Lusaka accord and JMC decisions.
During the reporting period the DRC Government zealously applied all the coercive aspects of its tightened monetary policies announced in mid-September 1999. In a bid to control the depreciation of the national currency and tackle hyperinflation the authorities imposed the official foreign exchange rate on all transactions, restricting the use of foreign currencies to some exceptional cases (foreign resident accounts, diplomats). Currently the official rate of 4.9 FC against US $1 represents roughly 30 percent of the FC market value. These coercive measures held back for a while the depreciation of the national currency but since mid-October the exchange rate fell again to its pre-reform level. Strict monetary control imposed by the Central Bank in conjunction with Law-enforcing Ministries has also hampered inflationary processes in the market but only in a coercive, artificial manner (12 percent inflation for October, compared to 18 percent in September).
The monetary measures had a devastating impact on businesses. Significant business closures and expatriate exodus1 contribute to a further shrinking of what remains from the local economy. Relief community is also facing serious difficulties stemming from monetary policies since the fixed humanitarian project budgets’ are not adaptable to a three-fold increase in expenditures. Negotiations with the authorities, some of whom recognise the harmfulness of the above measures on the economy, have not resulted in any viable solutions thus far.
The value of the FC continued to decline in areas out of the Government control as well. The exchange rates observed in October-November 99 in Kisangani, Gemena, Goma and Bukavu vary from 9.5 to 11 FC against US $1. Main economic issues observed in RCD and RCD-ML controlled provinces were related to tax levying and their channelling to Goma and Bunia budgets. RCD Goma also ordered the suspension all mining activities (diamond and gold) in order to regularise the tax collection.
A World Bank-IMF- BAD-UNDP joint assessment took place from 6 through 13 November. The members of this mission announced during a debriefing on 13 November that the contacts made with the authorities and negotiations held with key Ministries prepared propitious ground for resumption of DRC- WB/IMF co-operation. A preliminary agreement was reached on a medium-term programme of over US$ 400 million for social and rehabilitation projects.
1Foreign businessmen are particularly targeted by the new measures (including an imposed provision worth US$ 500,000 to be made available by 31 December 1999).
SECURITY and ACCESS
The reporting period was characterised by heightened tensions and insecurity which had repercussion both on the security of the relief personnel and operations, and security of target populations. The deteriorating security situation in war-affected zones of the DRC was primarily defined by the following four factors :
- Intensified insurrection that includes a large number of informal militarised groups with national and regional links. Over the past few months the links between Mayi-Mayi, Interahamwe, FDD, ex-FAR became more ostensible. Equally worrisome is the increased number of attacks, raids targeting relief personnel in troubled zones (Fizi – Baraka for instance). The protracted insurrection is the main cause of violent clashes resulting in a heavy death toll among the civilians. The observations made in the course of September, October and November lead to a conclusion that the insurgent groups, defined as renegade forces in the Lusaka cease fire agreement are gradually moving towards a regional (Kivus, Rwanda and Burundi) amalgamation amidst deepening drift within the main rebel force and continued support from state parties to the conflict. The above groups have apparently adopted a two-fold tactics that came into the open in September – October 1999. Firstly – spreading terror among civilian populations and hampering free circulation of persons and goods along the main axes. Secondly- infiltrating into a variety of areas and launching raids on major towns and their vicinities in an organised and often synchronous manner. Major concentrations of insurgent groups observed during the reporting period are: Bunyakiri, Miti, Burambira, Walungu, Kambeketi, Hombo, Musenge, Kahuzi-Biega park (all South Kivu); Masisi, Itebero, Walikale, Osokari, North Rutshuru and Virunga park (North Kivu). Proliferation of insurgent groups and expansion of their network was also exemplified by a raid on Bunia (ex-Orientale, now self-proclaimed Kibali-Ituri province, HQ of RCD-ML) on 2 November, during which a handful of insurgents almost succeeded in taking over the town for a short while and set free the prisoners detained in the local ward. Finally, local observers believe that insurgents are currently attempting to surround Goma and Bukavu. The population of both towns is said to be very nervous, as Mayi-Mayi attacks are commonly feared to be imminent. Although in a completely different context, the presence and activity of SPLA in northern Orientale province is a major threat to security in this area. The areas bordering with Garamba National Park are said to be under SPLA control in the absence of any RCD, MLC, Ugandan military or civilian authority.
- Another significant source of insecurity in eastern provinces of the DRC is the continued tension between the RCD Goma and RCD-ML Bunia factions and their Ugandan and Rwandan backers. Throughout September and October both factions as well as Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian troops were seen manoeuvring. After having withdrawn most of its troops in August 1999, Ugandan military took strategic positions in the interior of Orientale province. The population of Kisangani lives in fear of a new clash. Clashes between Ugandan and Rwandan troops were reported in northernmost parts of Kivu (Kanyabayonga) almost on a daily basis throughout October. The publicly announced determination of RCD Goma to regain control over Grand Nord and Ituri regions fuels fears of inevitable confrontation among local residents. A joint RPA and UPDF investigation initiated shortly after the Kisangani clashes (17-19 August 1999), concluded that the head of the then RCD-Kisangani, Wamba dia Wamba and his Ugandan backers, namely Brigadier Kazini instigated the bloody incident.
- Banditry, extortion and harassment of relief workers are of particular concern. These acts are often committed by unidentified military in relatively quiet areas (e.g. robbery of OXFAM-UK house in Bukavu) and in traditionally insecure places like southernmost Kivu (e.g. ASF truck with humanitarian supplies was turned back by unidentified military and accompanying relief personnel were beaten-up.
- Another major source of insecurity is the resumption of sporadic clashes between the belligerents. The accusations of cease-fire violation were voiced both by the DRC Government and rebels. Whereas the official Kinshasa continued to accuse the RCD and its allies of military build-up in violation of the Lusaka agreement, rebel movements accused the governmental forces of launching major counter-offensives in the northern front (Ikela-Opala); and in Southern Front- (Lodja). A serious deterioration in the security situation is also being observed in southernmost regions of Bandundu and Bas Congo provinces situated in the immediate proximity to the areas of intensified fighting in Angola. Incursions of UNITA guerrilla and Angolan regular troops in Bas Congo, for instance, causes disturbances to refugee assistance projects in early November 1999.
Contrasting with the above, there has been adequate co-operation from civilian and military authorities with relief agencies on both sides of the frontline. Access was granted to areas with fluid security situation by the DRC Government, MLC, RCD-ML and RCD Goma. Direct flights across the front-line continued. However, the DRC authorities require that on their return the humanitarian plane transit via third countries (e.g. CAR). Although a number of operations, including the third phase of NIDs (see below) and assessment missions could be carried out, the overall accessibility of the vulnerable populations decreased as a result of a worsening security climate.
Staff security arrangements put in place by the UN system and its partners in the east remain inadequate, as funding is still badly needed for deployment of security officers. An OCHA Humanitarian Affairs Officer is temporarily assuming the Field Security Officer’s responsibility for eastern DRC. This measure taken as a temporary solution has been unchanged for the last four months. Substantial security arrangements must be made to better prepare relief community to a precarious security situation.
HUMANITARIAN ACTION AND PRINCIPLES
Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
The unconfirmed cease-fire violation by the DRC armed forces in Equateur province starting from 2 November 1999 has, according to MLC, resulted in numerous civilian casualties. Caught in the middle of an unexpected “general offensive” of allied forces, the civilian populations of Nkembe, Bekili, and Zongo settlements of northern Equateur suffered losses in human lives, estimated by MLC at over 100 persons. These allegations have not been confirmed by independent sources. An inter-agency humanitarian mission to Gemena (4 November) failed to find any evidence of bombings of civilian towns earlier reported by MLC.
Entire communities in the Kivus remained exposed to atrocities committed by militia and foreign troops. As was the case since the beginning of the DRC conflict, the civilian population suspected of sympathies with either cause is the victim of the “insurgent attack- reprisal by rebel and/or Rwandan army” scheme in the Kivu provinces especially in its southernmost regions. In October 1999 reports of massacres of civilians came from Kalambi and Kahungwe (both south of Uvira). Local sources in South Kivu and the DRC Human Rights Ministry claimed that the RCD operations in the above settlements resulted in killings of over 100 civilians (30 September and 24 October). The latter incident has been confirmed by Bukavu based media (the number of victims, however was stated at 14). The DRC Government made an appeal to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 10 November to categorically and unequivocally condemn these acts.
An inter-agency assessment mission conducted in northern Equateur province (1-5 November) concluded that the presence of SPLA rebels in Dungu area poses serious threats to the principle of inviolability of refugee safe havens. Recruitment of refugees into SPLA, their harassment, abduction and other forms of mistreatment forced thousands of Sudanese refugees to flee their camps and disperse in forests. UNHCR will shortly come up with a plan of action to address this alarming situation.
Population Movement, Overview by Province
The population movement during the reporting period was generally stable in all conflict-affected provinces of the DRC. While no new massive internal displacements were reported, the cross-border movement of civilians continued, both to the DRC and from the DRC. Greater accessibility to displaced persons in and around the frontline resulted in further adjustment of IDP numbers and mapping of their location. w The difficult military situation in northern Angola continued to generate refugee influxes into Bas Congo and Katanga provinces. Refugees continued to arrive from the Republic of the Congo. Repatriation of remnants of the 1994-96 Rwandan Hutu refugee caseload continued. HCR commenced repatriation of DRC refugees from Central African Republic w Compared with previous months, the number of Congolese seeking refuge in the neighbouring countries significantly diminished. No new arrivals of DRC refugees were registered in Zambia and Central African Republic.
Katanga: An OCHA led inter-agency mission in Northern Katanga (4-8 October) completed the initial assessment of displacement in this province, which was started in August 99. The mission visited Kalemie, Moba as well as a number of villages 12 Km. south of Moba. According to findings of the mission, only a part of Kalemie (80 percent) and Moba (30 percent) residents have returned after having fled their communities in November-December 98. Assessment mission witnessed a large-scale devastation of areas affected by combats. The situation of returnees and those who are still living in the bush (over 120,000 persons) was described as pre-catastrophic with wide-spread starvation. In spite of serious hardships, the displaced are reluctant to return partially as a result of radio messages emanating from Lubumashi warning the population that in case of their return to rebel-occupied towns they will be considered collaborators when DRC Government regains the control of Northern Katanga. The dispersed population of Manono zone currently in Katchambuyu, Panda-Kuboko, Muyumba, Kamina-Lenge Kakamba and Katengo remained inaccessible. Medical and food assistance was provided to some 15,000 IDP in Pweto area (Haut Katanga), a few villages hosting IDPs in Haut Lomami (MalembaNkulu)- MSF/B, and to IDPs sheltered in five sites in Lubumbashi (25,000) MSF and ICRC. The rest of Katanga’s 195,000 IDPs remained unassisted. The above figure is on optimistic side, as it does not include the results of a follow-up planning mission that took place in northern Katanga in the early November 99.
Orientale: Two subsequent evaluations in Kibali-Ituri region of Orientale province allowed a more precise assessment of humanitarian consequences of the by now five month long inter-ethnic clashes (Gema/Gegere- Lendu) in the zone of Djugu. Although the causes of this violent confrontation are not yet clearly determined, local analysts suggest that the it is perpetuated by a long-simmering [economic] antagonism between Hema/Gegere cattle-breeders and Lendu agriculturists. Some 100,0000 persons are said to have fled the hostilities that resulted in heavy casualties (over 7,000 killed). The displaced are scattered in Drodro, Djigu, Fataki and Rethy and are in dire need of food and medical assistance. MSF/H, ICRC, OXFAM and MedAir are providing emergency medical support to accessible IDPs (approximately 50,000 persons). Although the local authorities claim that the number of persons displaced in Djugu zone exceeds 200,000 relief agencies operating in the area are inclined to consider 100,000 IDPs as a more realistic estimation.
Intensified troop movement in western and southern regions of the province (Opala) is thought to have hampered the return movement of IDPs. It is estimated that in the second half of October and beginning of November additional groups of civilians fled harassment by various retreating military.
SPLA: activity is the cause of a sustained displacement of an estimated 25,000 persons in Dungu area of Orientale. Exactly for the same reason the long-term Sudanese refugees in Dungu-Aba zone do not return to refugee camps and are dispersed in several locations. A persisting tensions between the local population of the area (especially displaced) and the Sudanese refugees is being observed. It is estimated that the number of Sudanese refugees reaches 70,000 persons, however only 40,000 are said to be compactly settled in refugee camps.
North Kivu: The first phase of an IDP registration verification project co-sponsored by the UN (WFP and UN Humanitarian Coordination) was completed in the beginning of November. In total some 155,000 newly displaced persons (since August 1998) were registered in all districts of the province with the exception of Masisi and Walikale. The security situation in the latter two locations remains highly volatile as the rebel forces attempt to establish a full control in these areas known for a significant concentration of insurgents. The total figure of IDPs in North Kivu is expected to rise considerably once the Masisi and Walikale IDP figures are available. The population movement in these densely populated districts of North Kivu was intensive in October and is still ongoing.
Identification and repatriation of Rwandan refugees (1994 caseload) continued and over 3,000 Rwandans were repatriated. HCR estimates that there are still some 10,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees present in the province.
South Kivu: Recurrent hostilities and maintained high level of tension prevented a massive IDP return to their home communities. Once again significant groups of the population, primarily residents of coastal villages and Moyen Plateau are on the move. At the same time an evaluation exercise conducted by ICRC in Luwinja and Kaziba revealed that IDPs earlier identified in these area (approximately 10,000) had returned. It becomes obvious that the numeric evaluation of IDP communities in South Kivu (latest global assessment- May-June 1999) needs to be up-dated, given the very high mobility of the displaced communities. Joint UN/NGO/Red Cross committee on IDPs is currently developing appropriate strategies to commence reinstallation of those IDPs willing to return. To date some 10,600 IDP registered with the provincial authorities for return. Based on preliminary data, a figure of 180,000 identified IDPs is put forward for planning purposes. In the course of October 1999, ICRC provided food assistance to 35,000 IDPs in both Kivus. Some 7,000 malnourished persons, primarily IDPs were assisted through nutritional centres sponsored by WFP and UNICEF.
Cross border movement from South Kivu to Tanzania continued thus bringing the total number of DRC (South Kivu) refugees in Kigoma to 119,000 persons. UNHCR Bukavu signals the continued presence of a sizeable number of Rwandan Hutu refugees in Kama, Kalole and Katshungu communities. For the most part these refugees are not willing to return to Rwanda.
The reporting period saw new population displacements (Kibali-Ituri, Orientale; Walikale, North Kivu, and Mongala, Equateur) but also return of entire communities in South Kivu. Nevertheless, the overall number of IDPs grew from 830,000 to 916,000 (increase by 75,000), as illustrated on the accompanying graph. This considerable increment is attributable to continued hostilities between Hema and Lemu ethnicites and volatile security in Haut Uele districts of Orientale province..
The downward sloping curve representing refugees in the DRC is a result of progressive return of Congolese (ROC) and repatriation of Rwandan refugees. It also reflects the results of an assessment mission in Aba-Dungu area recently organised by UNHCR/DRC.
The movement of Congolese into countries of asylum continued at a very slow rate. The downward curve representing DRC refugees in the third countries reflects the repatriation of DRC refugees from the Central African Republic.
Epidemiological situation significantly deteriorated throughout the DRC, but most noticeably in its eastern provinces. Epidemics of cholera were signalled in Walungu, Lemera, Uvira and Katana (South Kivu), Kisangani, Lubungu , Bunia (Orientale), Goma, Mweso, Kirotshe, Rutshuru, Rwanguba, Kayna and Mutwanga (North Kivu) as well as in Kinshasa. The interventions by UNICEF, WHO, MSF, ICRC and OXFAM in cholera-affected provinces was timely and resources available adequate. In consequence, the mortality rates that were reaching almost 12 percent in several health zones have by now significantly lowered. An epidemic of meningitis was observed in Lubumbashi in mid-October. Interventions by MSF and WHO succeeded in containing the disease, the mortality during the fist days of the outbreak was reportedly high (20 percent). A UN assessment mission in Ituri province reported 23 cases of plague in Rethy health zone with 7 lethal cases.
The third round of National Immunisation Days was conducted from 22-24 October. In addition to polio vaccination in zones that remained uncovered during the first two rounds of NIDs, measles vaccination and distribution of vitamin A were conducted during this phase of the operation. The organisers of NIDs, UNICEF and WHO and their local and international partners revealed the preliminary results of this nation-wide action which suggest that over 85 percent of the target population was attained. Of particular importance the dramatically increased coverage rated in Equateur (81.1 percent) and Katanga (69.5 percent) provinces. Although the final cumulative results of the vaccination campaign are still to be analysed, it is already now clear that NIDs were among the major achievements of the relief community in 1999 which also proved the feasibility of nation-wide humanitarian interventions under the current complex circumstances.
A series of assessments conducted in various parts of the DRC during September-October enabled relief agencies to more precisely define the food security levels of the affected populations. Three large groups of the population that appear to be unprotected vis-à-vis food security were defined:
- The first, least numerous group, represents the urban vulnerable population whose vulnerability is primarily defined by the decline of their purchasing power. An estimated 844,000 persons in the DRC’s major urban areas are currently facing serious food problems which is often reflected on their nutritional status:
The rural population residing in an immediate proximity to combat zones and which has endured looting and extortion by various military constitutes the largest vulnerable group, as defined by FAO. The farmers are said to have lost at least a part of their producing capacity (land, crops and marketing opportunities). The size of this group is estimated at 5,150,000 persons (this calculation is done on the basis of statistics used for NIDs i.e. by health zones).
The third group of the population experiencing food shortages consists of isolated rural communities. The phenomenon of socio-economic isolation of entire agricultural areas was well known in the DRC before the current round of hostilities. The war, however, accelerated the “isolationist trends”, cutting off millions of farmers from the rest of the country. In addition, the isolation of these food-producing areas has negative consequences on the food security of the DRC as a whole. FAO estimates the number of such persons at 4,100,000, mostly in Maniema, Eastern Kasai, Equateur and Orientale provinces.
No large-scale food assistance project that would alleviate the precarious food security situation in the country have been or are being implemented. Among the most significant operations underway in this field are: distribution and monetisation (at social prices) of food commodities funded by the Italian Government (covering Kinshasa and Katanga provinces); Vaccination of cattle in the Kivu and Orientale province (FAO), regular food distribution to over 11,000 IDPs in Kivu by WFP (including an airlift of 50 tons of food to rebel-besieged town of Kabinda/Eastern Kasai), and a market-gardening project in the Kivus, Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Bandundu and Kananga by UNDP/FAO.
The UN system in the DRC finalised its humanitarian Action Plan (Consolidated Appeal) for the year 2000. The budget requirements for humanitarian interventions in 2000 stand at US $90 million. The UN Consolidated Appeal for the DRC is to be launched on 23 November in Geneva.
The UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for the DRC participated in November 2 session of the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (ECHA) in New York where he made a presentation on the UN country-team’s approaches to humanitarian imperatives in the post-Lusaka DRC.
UN HC also called for an international meeting on DRC, which could develop a platform or a humanitarian dimension in support to the Lusaka negotiated settlement process. ECHA members reportedly supported the idea of an international meeting.
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