DR Congo

Assistance to vulnerable populations in south eastern Congo (DRC)

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Location of operation: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Amount of Decision: EUR 5,000,000

Decision reference number: ECHO/COD/EDF/2006/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population.

1.1. - Rationale : (conflict)

Although the peace accords of 1999 brought about a cease fire and withdrawal of the main belligerents involved in the war in the DRC, a number of smaller scale conflicts have smouldered on. These have mostly been situated in Ituri and in the Kivus. However over the last few months a new flashpoint has emerged in central Katanga.

As a result of the war, militia groups had formed either to support one or the other side or in order to protect their local communities. At the time of the peace and in the absence of a regular state apparatus, these different groups (who are rightly or wrongly generically referred to as Mai-Mai) found themselves, de facto, in authority over large parts of the country.

Whereas some disposed of this authority with a certain benevolence others imposed the regrettably more common tyrannical and predatory type of rule. As usual the Congolese people coped as best they could or moved when they could not. However, with time, many of these Mai-Mai regimes submitted to the advancing authority of the Transitional government. In central Katanga this was not the case.

For reasons that are linked to old ethnic vendettas and to the more prosaic issues such as the control of lucrative mining assets, the Mai-Mai groups in central Katanga were reluctant to relinquish their power. This defiance led to clashes with the regular army (Force Armée de la République du Congo -FARDC).

For the population, the outcome was not just inconclusive, thus implying a protracted conflict, but the remoteness of the conflict allowed both sides to use particularly vicious tactics far from the view of higher authorities or the international community. As usual, the civilian population bore the brunt of these tactics. As neither side had logistic support, they lived off the people until they had nothing to live off themselves. Worse were the reprisals for 'assisting' the enemy - villages were burnt, women raped and people simply killed.

The humanitarian consequences of the conflict have been grave. Hundreds of thousands fled their homes. Some chose to gather around administrative centres that were relatively accessible to humanitarian assistance. Most spread themselves throughout local communities, building makeshift shelters on borrowed land. Those from around Dubie have settled in camps. Others hid themselves in remote forested or marshy areas, out of the reach of assistance, afraid of retaliation and extortion by the militias or the FARDC. Others yet have fled into neighbouring provinces or even become refugees in Zambia or Tanzania.

At first, traditional coping mechanisms enabled people to survive, allowing the crisis to pass relatively unnoticed compared to the humanitarian crisis in the rest of Congo. However, gradually these failed and eventually word filtered out to the international community that a significant crisis was unfolding in central Katanga.

Assessing the scale of the crisis was the first problem. The remoteness of the area is difficult to imagine. Roads are either unserviceable, due to war, or weather damage, or simply insecure. The affected populations are spread across a vast area, much of which is marsh. Many, as mentioned were hiding. Mounting a response was obviously confronted with the same difficulties. On top of this, adequate humanitarian actors, logistics and supplies were not available in this theatre of operation.

The scenario was to be expected. Malnutrition rates rapidly increased due to the decreasing amount of food. The lack of shelter and the cold nights took their obvious toll, and the lack of access to the limited health care system made effective treatment impossible.

The churches and NGOs such as Medecins Sans Frontiere (MSF) did the best they could on the ground, but probably did almost as much good by highlighting the severity of the situation to the government and the international community. The UN and donors including the Commission and MS made emergency funds available for the most urgent needs. Medical and nutritional support was provided and emergency food rations were even airlifted in.

The Security Council refused to deploy a new force, but in the last months the UN has deployed a token force taken from existing units. This, together with the fact that the Government has been able to rein in its army, has made it less threatening for Mai-Mai forces to risk laying down their weapons. In June, the main group under the infamous Gideon finally surrendered.

The humanitarian situation has begun to stabilise, but considerable resources are still required to maintain these gains. Furthermore if, as is hoped, the security situation continues to improve, thousands of people will be able to return home. In view of the fact that their home areas have been totally devastated, the resettlement process will require considerable external assistance.

As if all the above were not enough; there are also, in neighbouring Zambia, some 50- 60,000 Congolese refugees who come from south eastern Katanga. Some are beginning to return spontaneously but UNHCR expect that many more will return if the elections in Congo are peaceful and successful.