Congo's Cinderella crisis: horrific suffering overlooked in largest displacement crisis of 2017

from Oxfam
Published on 31 Aug 2017

Oxfam chief back from fact finding mission to DRC where 1.5m are on brink of famine

Nearly 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes in the first six months of 2017, due to a vicious conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet this latest disaster has so far attracted little international aid or attention, Oxfam said today.

More people in the DRC have been driven from their homes in 2017 than in any other country. The 922,000 people displaced this year is more than the combined total of Nigeria and South Sudan.

Returning from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mark Goldring, Oxfam's chief executive, expressed alarm at the humanitarian situation and the inadequacy of the national and international responses. Goldring met families in the Kasai region who had been driven out of their village three times in six months and lost everything they had each time. Many bear the scars of machete attacks or have seen their families attacked and say they have no intention of returning home, considering their villages cursed.

He visited villages where houses had been burnt down just two weeks earlier and the inhabitants have returned knowing that the militia are still close by. He met children who had been shot, women attacked, houses burnt, schools and health centres ransacked. In one clinic, even the ward doors had been stolen. Many people are still living in the bush and those who have fled are living in local towns, churches and shelters, so the emergency is largely invisible to the wider world.

Goldring said: "The Kasai area has traditionally been peaceful, but since fighting broke out between government and local groups in December, the human suffering has been enormous. I drove past ghost villages, empty of people, all that was left were burnt shells of what were homes. I met people with the scars of machete attacks who had lost loved ones.

"Congo is a Cinderella crisis where huge swathes of human suffering is happening largely unnoticed by the world. Nearly a million people have been forced to flee their homes in the past six months but there has been very little or no international help.

"Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless and hungry - we need a massive aid effort to offer them hope. Of the major humanitarian crises only Afghanistan is currently getting receiving less aid than Congo."

The total number of people displaced in Congo is 3.8 million making it the largest displacement crisis in Africa. It is also home to nearly 500,000 refugees from Burundi, Central Africa Republic and South Sudan. Over 1.5 million hungry people in the country are one step away from famine.

The government and international community have been slow to respond, in part because of the security situation. Most of the affected people have received no external help, while local communities have generously taken people in and offered the modest help they can.

Of the top ten humanitarian crises in the world only Afghanistan is getting less support per person in need. The UN appeal for the crisis is only a quarter funded and is short by $600 million.

People's suffering is aggravated by the wider economic and political situation in the country. Delayed elections and political turmoil have contributed to high inflation and economic slowdown. Food prices are rising and even people not affected by the fighting in Kasai and other parts of the country are finding it hard to cope.

Oxfam is helping more than 430,000 people the DRC with clean water, sanitation and food (cash transfers and seeds). In response to the Kasai crisis Oxfam has set up a base in Tshikapa and is providing water and sanitation to people forced to flee their homes.

Oxfam called on the government of the DRC to stand by its commitments made in a 31st December agreement which include holding elections, and offering its people the support it can. It is calling on the international community to rapidly scale up its response and do more to ensure civilians are protected and human rights respected.