Brussels, 28 January 2003 - The European Commission has approved a €35 million package to help meet humanitarian needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2003. These funds will be channelled through partner organisations working in the field by the Humanitarian Aid Office, ECHO, which comes under the responsibility of Commissioner Poul Nielson. "ECHO always aims to provide humanitarian assistance on an equitable, needs-driven basis. The DRC programme has been one of our biggest in recent years because the needs there are so great", said Mr Nielson. "2003 will be no exception. However, this year ECHO will be able to focus more on front-line humanitarian priorities such as health and food, as longer term donors complete their take-over of substantial health, food security and rehabilitation programmes".
Despite recent progress on the political and military front, the DRC is still plagued by instability and faces a great number of challenges. Humanitarian needs are as great as ever, and Congolese continue to die in large numbers, with mortality rates approaching five times the sub-Saharan norm in some front-line areas. However only a small proportion of this 'excess mortality' is directly attributable to acts of violence. The main killers are not bullets and machetes, but malaria and malnutrition, owing to the breakdown of food production and basic health services.
ECHO funds will be used to treat some 60,000 acutely malnourished children, while addressing the causes of malnutrition by providing their families with food, seeds and tools. About 115,000 families with malnourished or otherwise vulnerable children will be assisted in this way.
ECHO will continue to support the Congolese public health system through the provision of drugs, training and supervision. Specific action will also be taken on mother and child healthcare, reproductive health, malaria, emergency obstetrics and secure blood transfusion. The fees charged by the health system will be greatly reduced, because even the token amounts involved have been shown to deter the poorest people from seeking medical help. Taking into account a likely increase in demand due to lower fees, ECHO aims to assist some 4.5 million people in 55 health districts in 2003.
Over the past five years ECHO has allocated just under €120 million to DRC, making it the country's largest donor of humanitarian aid.