The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has posed a significant challenge to humanitarian organisations over a number of years. Recurrent outbreaks of fighting in the east of the country between government forces and the renegade general Laurent Nkunda has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
The conflict has held back development leaving the local population in urgent need of not only protection, but also food aid, health services, livelihood support and access to safe drinking water. Rebuilding the country's transport infrastructure is another key priority.
The European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) is spending over €44 million in the DRC in 2008, the majority of which is supporting partner relief organisations working on these issues in the east of the country in North and South Kivu. Several ECHO experts are permanently based in the country, following closely humanitarian developments on the ground.
The most pressing need in 2008 has been to respond to the growing number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the eastern region who were forced to leave their homes because of the conflict. Although around 700,000 IDPs and 43,000 refugees, who had fled to neighbouring countries returned home during 2007, renewed conflict has led to the displacement of over half a million people, around 250,000 of whom (according to figures from the United Nations) have left their homes following fighting in October 2008.
The European Commission responded to the intensifying conflict by allocating €4 million in emergency funding to help vulnerable people caught up in the fighting.
The impact of the Commission's humanitarian response in the DRC has been significant. In 2008, programmes funded by the Humanitarian Aid department included:
- Food assistance to 1.2 million beneficiaries
- Survival kits for 83,000 displaced people
- Repatriation of 20,000 refugees
- Support to 25 health zones providing access to services for 2.5 million people
- Provided improved access to clean water for 110,000 people
- Vaccinated 455,500 children against measles
- Seeds and tools support to 56,000 households
- Care for 9,800 victims of sexual violence
- Rehabilitation of 205km of vital roads
- Humanitarian air service
As many humanitarian projects can only be reached by air, the Commission runs a dedicated humanitarian air service called "ECHO-Flight". Its task is to transport humanitarian personnel and supplies to dozens of remote locations that would otherwise be cut off from the outside world. ECHO Flight services are free of charge for entitled relief agencies and their personnel. Its three aircrafts also carry out emergency evacuations.