In 2017, across the globe, an estimated 201 million people in 134 countries needed humanitarian assistance, and public and private organisations spent a total of US$27.37 billion to assist them (Development Initiatives 2018). The amount of funding for humanitarian assistance has steadily increased over the last two decades. Research on the effectiveness of such assistance, however, has not kept pace (Waldman and Toole 2017).
There is an increasing demand from donors, policymakers and implementing agencies to remedy this situation and to generate more evidence about what works and why. Research on humanitarian assistance, however, is challenging. It must overcome ethical dilemmas, security concerns, logistical hurdles, a relative paucity of high-quality monitoring data and the urgency of humanitarian action. Nonetheless, a growing community of researchers in the humanitarian space, academia and elsewhere are developing innovative methods to overcome these challenges and carry out high-quality studies in emergency contexts (Blanchet et al. 2017).
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), humanitarian actors have been present for over 20 years in response to the ongoing armed conflicts and the low state capacity in the mountainous east and south of the country, and more recently in the Kasai region. Acute crises such as population displacement and natural disasters exacerbate a situation of chronic vulnerability, especially among the rural population.
As of December 2017, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated that the ongoing conflicts in North and South Kivu and an increase in inter-communal clashes in southern and central provinces had caused 4,480,000 people to be displaced from their homes, out of a total national population of approximately 80 million. 8 At that time, it was the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa. Most of these IDPs lack sufficient access to food, clean water and sanitation facilities, and threats to security are pervasive. Similar conditions hold even for most non-displaced rural populations in the east, where armed conflict has been common for over 20 years.