DR Congo

DRC Monthly Humanitarian Bulletin, Nov - Dec 1999 and a Preliminary Annual Review

Situation Report
Originally published

Office of the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Field Co-ordination Unit (OCHA)
Kinshasa, DRC
Kinshasa: Immeuble Royal, Gombe (243) 88 45 573; (243) 880 10 58; 871 762 073 730/1/2/3/4; fax: 00 871 682 288 882
Goma: ave. du Golfe, Katindo gauche; tel: (243) 888 53 97; (243) 888 57 81; (250) 0850 55 37; 873 761 997 030


The overall feature of the period that spanned from August through December 1999 has been one of intense disillusion among the Congolese society at chances of a quick and scrupulous materialisation of the Lusaka accord. Cross accusations of violations of the cease-fire and delays in setting an environment conducive to the launching of a national debate have significantly eroded the momentum created by the Lusaka accord.

The first contacts made in Kinshasa by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General with the President as well as civil society of DRC, the visit of the US Ambassador to the UN Mr. Holbrooke and the subsequent unanimous offer made to Mr Masire to be appointed as OAU Facilitator of the national debate, came a long way to set the pace of the Lusaka process and to draw essential steps and goals. It also helped in exposing the ultimate responsibility of the Congolese in creating an appropriate environment for the implementation of Lusaka.

High expectations are now placed upon the offer made by Mr Holbrooke to gather the four Congolese protagonists in New York in January, in an to attempt to break the current deadlock. Meanwhile, concerns are voiced by non-armed opposition and civil society leaders at their possible marginalisation from the negotiation process.

In eastern DRC, renewed support to various militias further shrunk the survival space for civilians and communities caught between attacks and counter attacks characterised by equal disregard for "collateral damage". In this context, the alleged murder of fifteen women in Mwenga area (southern Kivu) in mid-November, as well as the killings in Rwanda on 23 December, only reflect how damaging the violent regional status quo can be on the Lusaka accord providing cohabitation between communities in DRC.

In northern DRC, renewed fighting in Equateur resulted in the JMC proceedings’ being used by foreign forces to negotiate tactical issues rather than implementing phases of the Lusaka accord (especially withdrawal, demobilisation, Congolese army reunification).

Meanwhile, southern Equateur has clearly become another "unsafe corridor" - similar to those of northern Katanga, eastern Kasaï, Bukavu surroundings or the Tanganyika lakeshore, where displacements compounded with systematic and repeated looting of all remaining charity structures (church dispensaries, NGOs) have rendered hundreds of thousands vulnerable to hardships that would have been manageable under more normal circumstances.

In Kinshasa, underground foreign exchange practices have resumed in response to government’s monetary policy, though in a context of unprecedented economic depression since the 1991 and 1993 looting sprees. Added to the deadline given to all foreign traders to make a US$500,000 bank deposit before December 31 in order to be allowed to operate, and to the inability of the authorities to provide foreign currency to essential food and oil suppliers, that overall policy is giving way to uncontrollable consequences in January. In particular, prohibitive costs of transport, as a direct consequence of inflation and oil shortages, as well as empty shops may lead to waves of popular anger. It is important here and now to stress that the current situation in Kinshasa is, by formal economy standards, not bearable. It is only holding thanks to the fact that most influential operators do not abide the new regulation and on the contrary, use the latter’s inadequacy to change at market rate and generate quick profits in a disintegrating trade economy. Eventually, institutions with transparent financial procedures, such as the United Nations and diplomatic missions are the only entities paying the price for the current policy and as such, are condemned to reassess their activities in Government-held areas of DRC.

Exceptional floods and river overflows created an additional group of approximately 9,000 vulnerable families in several illegal-housing areas of the capital city. Belgium, France, Japan, USA, Canada, Great Britain, ECHO and UN Agencies contributed over half a million US dollars. UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, representing the international community within the national crisis committee, channelled foreign funds and assistance through four sector focal points. Though manageable at country level, the crisis served a purpose in illustrating the readiness and capacity of the international community represented in DRC to respond to distress, once common assessment, sharing of responsibilities and co-ordinated response capacities have been set.


Wartime economy, a major source of vulnerability for millions of Congolese in government-held areas, continued its steady decline during November-December.

Although continuity in the economic recession prevailed during the reporting period, indicators of DRC’s economic performance for the last month depicted the most drastic decline.

Devaluation rhythms of CF against 1 US $ in eastern and western DRC

Inflation in the DRC 1996-1999

The rigid monetary policies promoted by the DRC Government since January 99 with a view to replenish state treasury and abate inflation failed to provide enough contributions to outweigh the high risk of seriously hurting the economy and rendering millions of Congolese extremely vulnerable. In September 1999, the Government further tightened its fiscal

Inflation dynamics in Kinshasa. 1999

policies and resorted to non-monetary or coercive measures to enforce economic discipline in the country. The September decree of the Ministry of Finances, conceived as a watershed event had a short-lived macroeconomic impact, by reducing the overall inflation by two percent for three weeks. Conversely it prompted a further disengagement of large and medium businesses, "exodus of capitals", widespread deficit of commodities and consequently a galloping inflation. The most pessimistic economic forecasts made months ago had failed to predict a 350 percent inflation currently observed in Government controlled areas of the DRC. Furthermore, this percentage might considerably increase with the salary arrears liquidation promised to civil servants for the very end of 1999. A new monetary emission is anticipated to cover the cost.

Inflation in the DRC 1996-1999

While a number of important sources of income for state budget were lost in eastern DRC (e.g. gold mining, coffee exports, customs taxes, etc), revenues from the main sources of income (diamond mining) underwent a dramatic decline from US $356 million in 1998 to US $170 million in 1999. The budget revenues have almost halved between September and October 99- another result of the September decree of the Ministry of Finances. The resultant budget gap was covered through monetary emissions and the monetary mass currently in circulation has tripled compared to January 1999. (Source- DRC Central Bank, December 1999.)

Devaluation rhythms of CF against 1 US $ in eastern and western DRC

Inflationary processes affected RCD controlled provinces of the DRC as well, at a lesser extent though. The disparity between devaluation rates of the Congolese Franc in eastern and Western DRC is attributable to a stretched monetary mass and relatively small commodity deficit in the east.

In spite of a weighty pressure exerted by the business community as well as major charity and humanitarian institutions to roll back the controversial monetary policies, the DRC Government remains determined to pursue its economic rescue plan. Although this plan is designed to relieve the tremendous social impact of the economic breakdown (e.g. fixing prices for essential commodities), thus far it created a large room for corruption. In an attempt to enforce an ailing policy of "social prices", the authorities in Lubumbashi for instance, went as far as arresting shopkeepers. Local observers fear that such methods of price control, added to coercive measures on foreign investors (see Introduction) may increase the gap in the market.

Food Security

Assessment of the humanitarian situation in the country and monitoring of economic trends that affect the household food security revealed two main dynamics perpetuating a precarious food security situation in the DRC. Firstly- the ongoing war, by uprooting hundreds of thousands of farmers, significantly diminished the overall farming area and isolated producers from their market outlets. Secondly- the dramatic loss of purchasing power of the population in government controlled zones, against the background of an overall economic collapse. In contrast to deep economic recessions that have been striking the DRC since the early 90s, the ongoing one is marked by a large deficit of essential supplies (see chart), in addition to currency depreciation. Different in nature, both causes of food insecurity are closely intersected and their impact is equally dramatic.

Humanitarian assessments reveal Figures provided by FAO/DRC that some 2,157,000 persons (IDPs, refugees, urban vulnerable) or 4.3% of the DRC population face critical food insecurity; another 8,400,000 persons (mostly urban populations and farmers in the proximity of the frontline) or 17% of the population are in moderate but rapidly growing food insecurity. The rest of the country is experiencing food security problems that do not however go beyond the scope of development problems resulting from cultivating techniques, nutritional habits, etc.

In 1999 attempts to find a solution to the food security problem were confronted to vaguely defined vulnerability criteria. Who and how to feed millions of vulnerable has become a real dilemma. While it was comparatively easy to envisage refugee or IDP feeding projects, identification of urban and rural vulnerable other than malnourished children or institutionalised patients in the absence of any social services, remained an unsolved problem. Having said this, severe funding constraints prevented specialised agencies (WFP) from delivering adequate and systematic assistance even to easily identifiable beneficiaries, like refugees and IDPs. Of over 40,000 metric tons of food required by WFP for minimal interventions in 1999, only 13,000 metric tons were delivered and distributed in eastern and western DRC. Food assistance projects in 1999 are summarised below:

Amount in MT
Italian Government
German Government
Belgian Government
Total Preliminary data provided by FAO

Two innovative approaches were introduced in 1999 to address the food security situation in urban areas. Firstly, UNDP and FAO launched a market-gardening project in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, which is reportedly increasing food sufficiency of the urban vulnerable who have access to land-plots in sub-urban areas. Thanks to this project, assistance to the displaced in Lubumbashi shifted to a self-reliance programme for 500 volunteering families, with support from Agencies, Red Cross and NGOs. Secondly, a considerable amount of high-energy value food (donation of the Italian Government) was monetised at social prices in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. It is strongly believed, that this kind of projects must be replicated at a considerably larger scale, given the heightening tensions and unfeasibility of food distributions to millions.


The disintegration of the Congolese public health as a structure has become much more obvious than ever in the course of 1999. Although this has been an inherent feature of the health care system in the DRC since the 80s, the political and military turmoil of the 90s and especially the ongoing war brought it to the point of breakdown.

The impact of the war on the health care system of the country can hardly be overestimated WHO estimates that the ongoing conflict in the DRC has caused directly the death of 6,000 persons since August 1998. Indirect impact, or losses in human lives among civilian populations (displaced, food insecure, isolated) are estimated at over 100 deaths a day., however, absence of any systematic surveillance was the main reason behind the failure of national authorities and specialised agencies to clearly distinguish the war-inflicted impact from chronic and structural problems. Whichever way, formal medical services have become increasingly a luxury affordable to a tiny minority of the country’s population.

Some statistics WHO and UNFPA that were generated in 1999 are not of an absolute value since information collection, especially from eastern DRC, remained sporadic. Moreover, some health indicators listed below are based on sampling, which implies that the margin of error might be significant.

  • Life expectancy from birth in DRC is estimated at 45 years, as compared to 53 years in 1993
  • The general mortality rate increased from 15.5% in 1989 to 16.8% in 1999
  • A dramatic increase of over 100% in maternal mortality was observed in the majority of Government held areas of the DRC and is currently estimated at 1,837 deaths per 100,000 life births)
    • No significant increase in infant (128 per 1,000 life births) was observed in 1999
The degradation of the health care system in the DRC is the main cause of re-emergence of epidemic diseases that were controllable a decade ago. Of 25,000 total cases of sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) registered in Africa, 20,000 were found in the DRC. Only 10% of persons infected by this lethal disease were treated in the absence of affordable cure, thus bringing the coverage rate back to its level of 1936. In 1999 one form of haemorrhagic fever (Ebola family- Marburg or Durba syndrome) reappeared in Orientale province of the country causing the death of 74 persons. Malaria remained highly endemic throughout the country taking a heavy tall of approximately 300,000 death a year (17% of all lethal cases in Africa). Cholera has firmly become endemic in the DRC capital, the Kivus and Orientale provinces.

Against such background of immense medical needs, the humanitarian assistance in 1999 remained confined to emergencies in a traditional sense.

  • Outbreaks of cholera epidemic were handled in a rather efficient manner through a close inter-agency co-operation in the Kivus and Orientale (UNICEF, MSF/F, MSF/H, WHO, ICRC, SCF, MedAir).
  • The outbreak of Marburg epidemic in Orientale was addressed/contained (there is no known cure) through an impressive and rapid international response (WHO, MSF, Institut Pasteur, CDC).
  • UNICEF, ASRAMES, MEMISA, ICRC and several local and international partners provided essential medicines in the devastated zones of North and South Kivu (in a rather systematic manner);
  • MedAir, MSF and ICRC imported and distributed a significant amount of medicines and supplies to keep partially running health institutions of the eastern Orientale and largest towns of this province;
  • MSF/B and MEMISA (ECHO funding) ensured a minimal surveillance and response to the epidemic of trypanosomiasis under the highly complex security and military conditions of Equateur province;
  • Much needed medical supplies and technical assistance were provided by MERLIN to several referral hospitals in Maniema, the most isolated province of the DRC, and by MEMISA Holland-CRS in Sankuru (Eastern Kasaï) with UN support.

There were, however, several exceptions, or structural projects that edge closer with transitional initiatives and address "latent" emergencies like AIDS (blood transfusion), sleeping sickness, training of medical and paramedical personnel (WHO, FOMETRO, MSF and Programme d’appui temporaire aux structures de santé (PATS/EU). 1999 was marked by an unprecedented nation-wide polio and measles vaccination (WHO, UNICEF, Rotary Int. , USAID) through which over 80% of the DRC’s 11 million children under five were immunised.

Protection of civilians in armed conflict

There is a frequent fallacy in evaluating the principles of protection of civilians in a "very peculiar war of DRC", where micro-negotiations and macro-looting more than often pre-empt offensives and take-overs. Some analysts suggest that the populations themselves exercise the principle of protection of civilians by fleeing deep into forests, hills, etc. Moreover, there is a common opinion that temporary flight into forest, for instance, is a traditional way of self-help for many local communities at times of hardship. Although the latter is partially true, it does not bring to light the gravity of the situation. The civilian population in conflict affected areas of the DRC has been facing a direct threat to their physical security and an inability to cope with hardships of exile, which in turn create life-threatening environment as well. The patterns of insecurity drastically varied from region to region [even sub-region] in 1999. The following is an attempt to classify the two main sources of insecurity for civilians:

  • The fluid political and military climate of the Kivu most notably in its southern regions generated incessant waves of violence that affected mostly the civilian population. In an inexorable cycle of violence reports of massacres and ruthless counter-insurgency were rife. These reports would reach the international community weeks and even months after the alleged atrocities had happened and would not always be possible to verify. Messages of extreme hatred [expulsion or even extermination of minorities] are spread by various leaders some of whom are increasingly vocal. Protection of entire communities of the Kivu against violence and hate propaganda is an imperative today and is, perhaps, one of the major challenges ahead.
  • Although the most serious, direct or targeted violence is not the only hazard encountered by war-affected civilians in the DRC. Installations, facilities essential to communities’ survival have been subjected to looting and destruction throughout 1999. The loss of health facilities, crops, cattle and food reserves constituted in many instances a life hazard, condemning communities to famine and disease. The looting, extortion and sometimes deliberate destruction of community assets have been committed both by regular forces (e.g. Chadian contingent in Equateur) and non-state actors (e.g. SPLA rebels in Northern Orientale).

Human Rights

In Government held regions of the DRC, the reporting period saw a number of very positive developments as regards the respect for human rights. Firstly, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights obtained an authorisation from the DRC Minister of Justice (Mr. Mwenze Kongolo) to access all the prisons and detention centres throughout the DRC. It is noteworthy that HCHR was lobbying for this decision since 1996 and the authorisation granted is of a great value nowadays, as it gives access not only to political prisoners, but also to prisoners of war and deserters. Secondly, in the beginning of December 99, the DRC authorities announced their decision to impose a moratorium on executions of all prisoners sentenced to death, including those indicted by the Court of Military Order - Cour d’Ordre Militaire (COM). And finally, on 15 December 1999, 156 political prisoners, including 90 activists of PALU (Parti Lumumbiste Unifié), four members of 'UDPS (Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social), and 33 founders of a monarchist "Royaume Congo" movement. Public declarations by political opponents have notably increased in number recently.

Individuals and communities at risk

Organised departures from DRC of individuals and families exposed to violent hatred in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi reached a final point in the early December when 609 persons left Kinshasa to Cameroon, as part of the US initiative to host in the USA approximately 1,500 selected persons. During the process however, 113 other persons were denied access to the airport and brought back to town, although they had been selected by the same panel comprised of the Ministry of Human Rights, IOM and OCHA. Discussions are underway between the Contact group (UN Office for Human Rights, US, Belgian and Swiss Ambassadors, ICRC, the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, UNDP-OCHA Unit) and the Ministries of Interior and Human Rights to settle their case. Meanwhile, the temporary site made available in Kinshasa (since February 1999) by the Government has been given a more permanent status as protection site, thus ensuring a safe and credible alternative for those persons who were not selected or did not want to leave DRC, but still feel at threat in town.

All in all, combined efforts of the Minister of Human Rights and the Contact group since the deadly events of August 1998, have led to the acknowledgement by the DRC highest authorities of their primary responsibility for the safety of every individual in territories under Government’s control; to the concerted departure of over 1,300 persons (including Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian citizens), and to protection of and assistance to hundreds of persons at risk.

Population Movement

Regions of DRC affected by population displacement. Division of DRC into Health Zones. Map by OCHA/WHO DRC.

The problem of internally displaced persons in DRC remained one of the most controversial humanitarian topics throughout 1999. Throughout 1999 OCHA/DRC monitored the population displacement, attempted to identify their needs in terms of assistance and protection and to eventually mount a system-wide response. While IDP assessments in the Kivu, Katanga and to a lesser extent Orientale provinces reached a methodologically sound level (e.g. simultaneous IDP assessment from Government and rebel held zones), no adequate sampling - that would enable an accurate evaluation - could be undertaken in Eastern Kasai, Maniema and Central Orientale provinces. The features of the population displacement were in general terms captured through assessment and operational missions in Ikela and Gemena. A rather accurate registration of IDPs, most notably in North Kivu, enabled relief agencies to come up with a realistic plan of action. Continuous mapping in South Kivu, where a first prototype of an IDP taskforce was put in place, is also considered an achievement that would facilitate programme delivery in 2000.

In spite of many odds encountered in numeric evaluation, a generally accurate tracking system was in place. The method of calculation was based on the most functional division of the country into 306 health zones (see the map) with systematically updated population figures. Although various sources of information were used to monitor the displacement dynamics, only reliable or when possible double-checked information was taken into consideration. At the same time, it is believed that the margin of error might be considerable (+/- 20%), especially for IDPs in Kasai and Equateur provinces where the humanitarian presence was either marginal or limited to provincial capitals.

Any attempt to distinguish the displaced from their hosts or from any other group of war-affected populations leads to the issue of how to define IDPs. Approaches vary considerably from agency to agency and from case to case. In the absence of a universally accepted (including Government, church, the UN, Red Cross Movement, NGOs) criterion and facing a multitude of institutional approaches (health, food security, protection, type and duration of displacement, accessibility, local traditions, etc), a conventional definition was elaborated. According to the definition on the basis of which the IDP monitoring was built, the displaced in the DRC are persons uprooted by the ongoing conflict from their home communities for a sustained period of time, deprived of their traditional means of subsistence, exposed to insecurity and persecution, accommodated in a compact way or dispersed in areas other than their communities of origin. According to this definition, at the beginning of December 1999, there were over 960,000 IDPs in eight out of eleven provinces of DRC. With the exception of IDPs in Ituri region (Orientale), where the displacement (estimated 100,000) was caused by tribal clashes, the rest of the displacement was caused by military operations or by contagious fear of retaliations.

Apart from a few success stories (ICRC in Bunia-Ituri, MSF in Central Katanga, NID coverage included many IDP communities, etc.), assistance provided to displaced during 1999 was inadequate both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Estimated #
North Kivu
South Kivu


The fact that the DRC continued to receive and host successive waves of refugee influxes from six of its nine neighbour countries in spite of the ongoing conflict is largely significant. Apart from the Angolan and Congolese (Republic of the Congo) refugees, the rest of asylum seekers, i.e. Sudanese, Ugandan, Rwandan, Burundian refugees remained or arrived into regions of the DRC affected by military activity with the direct participation of Governmental and insurgent forces from their countries of origin. As such, by fleeing to the DRC or remaining there after August 1998, the Sudanese, Angolan, Ugandan and Burundian refugees did hardly circumvent persecution (or fear of persecution) emanating from their own Governments or rebels, and perpetrated on DRC territory. For example, the Burundian refugees in Uvira-Fizi zone of South Kivu witnessed the extension of the Burundi’s civil conflict, where regular forces fight FDD militiamen. Likewise, the presence of Angolan army and regular incursions of UNITA rebels in areas hosting Angolan refugees made protection tasks a rather complex exercise.

The influx of Congolese (ROC) refugees and repatriation of Rwandan Hutu refugees from the Kivus were perhaps the greatest challenges for UNHCR in 1999. By the beginning of the year, HCR was estimating the number of remnants of the Rwandan Hutu refugees in North and South Kivu at 25,000 persons. The Rwandan war fought extraterritorially (army versus Interahamwe insurgents and ex-FAR) prevented UNHCR from completing the repatriation of these refugees in 1997. The initiative of RCD rebels starting from January 1999 to repatriate this residual caseload in due course became a major exercise, which was monitored and facilitated by UNHCR. Although monitoring was not regular, nothing suggested that the repatriation was involuntary. The repatriation is currently ongoing and it is believed that a maximum of 5000 Rwandan Hutu refugees are still remaining in the Kivus.

Although an influx of Congolese refugees was anticipated since the outbreak of hostilities in the ROC, their mass arrival and their appalling health conditions rendered UNHCR interventions in Bas Congo provinces highly complex. In the absence of security guarantees for returning refugees in the ROC an attempt was made to stabilise Congolese refugees in the DRC prior to repatriating them. In addition, the Congolese refugees were exposed to a significant pressure exerted both by ROC official propaganda and by various insurgents. A compromise formula was found in the course of this operation, which enabled HCR to facilitate the repatriation and monitor the security of refugees back in Brazzaville. Currently there are over 5,000 ROC refugees remaining in HCR camps and another 6,000 scattered in villages along DRC/ROC border in Bas Congo province.

From the second half of 1999, UNHCR re-established a partial access to Sudanese refugees in northern Orientale, an area controlled by Sudanese SPLA rebellion. Efforts are currently underway to stabilise the movement of these refugees and guarantee their safe havens in this part of the DRC.

However, like all the other humanitarian interventions in the course of 1999, refugee assistance programmes suffered from a significant under-funding and frequent inaccessibility. In spite of this, a permanent access was established or re-established to all groups of refugees with the exception of Burundians another of UNHCR’s achievements was the direct air repatriation of a first group of Burundian refugees (volunteers) from Mbuji-Mayi (Government-held area) to Bujumbura, with both authorities’s backing. and the delicate repatriation operations of Congolese (ROC) and Rwandan refugees were handled adequately.

The following are the end-of-year refugee statistics in the DRC:

Country of Origin

Summary of Population Movements, DRC 1999

The outflow of Congolese to third countries, mainly to Tanzania, slowed down starting from October 99. Although there are still reports of South Kivu refugees arriving into refugee camps of Kigoma (Tanzania), the influx does not have a mass character. The number of IDPs is estimated to have increased by 40,000 persons, residents of Basankusu and Bocungu regions of Equateur province. At this point it is unclear whether the displacement in this part of the DRC will become a sustained one, but according to the latest reports from religious sources, the population of urban areas is still hiding following intensified hostilities in the beginning of December 1999. The refugee numbers have increased by almost 10,000, thus reflecting the new arrivals of Angolan refugees and the completion of Sudanese refugees’ registration.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.