OCHA Operations Director John Ging Press statement on joint mission to the DRC New York, 5 November 2012
Good afternoon, everyone.
I returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the end of last week. While I was there, I was travelling with the UK’s Director-General of the Department for International Development, Mark Bowman, and also with Catherine Wiesner, who’s the Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. We visited the capital but most of our time was spent in the Kivus, North and South. The aim of our mission was to assess the ongoing humanitarian emergency which has caused huge displacement since the beginning of this year, and to look at the response. Bringing two of the largest donors with me was, I felt, a very useful opportunity for them and for us, to discuss what we can do better and how we can adjust ourselves to a better response to the escalating situation.
As you all know, eastern DRC has been hit this year by massive humanitarian needs triggered by the rise of the M23 rebel group and violence by more than two dozen other armed groups across the region. There has been widespread abuse against civilians including murder, rape and brutal reprisals.
The fact that there are now 2.4 million IDPs in the DRC, including more than 1.6 million in the Kivus, is a very bleak illustration of the dire humanitarian situation the country is facing. As armed groups proliferate in the Kivus, it is the people who suffer: men are massacred, women are raped and children are forcibly recruited, while villages are looted and destroyed. Yet amid all of this suffering, I was deeply humbled by the dignity and resilience of the Congolese people who continue to try to cope with these appalling circumstances.
This emergency adds to what are already monumental humanitarian needs in the DRC. Among the challenges the country faces: 4.5 million people are suffering from food insecurity; 1 million children under the age of five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition; and there are 27,000 cholera cases this year.
I visited a trade fair in North Kivu, where 6,500 people were receiving the opportunity to get food and non-food items in a rather innovative process. This process involved the local commercial community, rather than the international community trucking in the assistance, to engage the traders in the process and also to give people a choice. Rather than having a standard set of items for distribution, people could choose in accordance with their needs from a much larger range of products. It is a lot of hard work, under UNICEF’s leadership and supported by the Norwegian Refugee Council, but it is a very innovative way of distributing and meeting the needs, which provided engagement for the community, which was beneficial on the commercial side, and [provided] more dignity for people who were the recipients of the aid in giving them the choice, so they were able to choose much more freely in accordance with their particular needs. I was pleased to see that innovation in how we are delivering aid.
It is crucial that we continue to step up our interventions in DRC to protect people. We need a larger humanitarian response. I also want to highlight and compliment the humanitarian response that is underway. In the first half of 2012, humanitarian aid enabled 10.6 million people to benefit from health services, 3.1 million people access to drinking water, food, nutrition and agricultural support to 1.6 million people, and over 1 million people benefitted from the receipt of non-food items, household items and other support. So there is a very large humanitarian operation underway.
Having said that, the challenge is ever-growing and it’s quite overwhelming in its scale and its pace. But we must not fall into the notion that it’s not possible to address effectively. The scale and scope and pace of the humanitarian challenge is enormous, but it is possible to address this, and the key is funding. As we have seen, sadly the news of suffering in the DRC does not receive the same attention, globally, as other crises. We’ve seen a fall-off in the funding. In 2009, the funding was at $541m, and the appeal for 2012, which stands at $791m, has only received $429m. So you can see there, over $120m less in 2012 for a bigger humanitarian challenge than in previous years, and this is the issue that I wanted to join our leading donors to: there is an effective aid operation, but it is not sufficient. I’m pleased to say that they saw the effectiveness of the operation and they also witnessed the fact that that it isn’t sufficient, and that more funding is urgently and desperately needed.
I have to also say that having visited this country many times, one can only be humbled by the dignity and resilience of the people. Having faced so many crises over the last decade and more, you meet people who have been displaced multiple times, the same families, and they haven’t given up. I was also hugely impressed by UNICEF’s Education for Peace project, where the kids were really internalising the issues around peace, and the necessity to avoid and stay out of the conflict, and all the issues around child soldiers and the other issues that are so frequent in this conflict. So again, a great effort being made by our humanitarian partners on the ground but an urgent appeal for more resources.
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