Supporting a "forgotten" humanitarian crisis in DRC
On the occasion of a high-level humanitarian donor conference, co-hosted by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the European Union and Dutch Government in Geneva on April 13-14, which hopes to raise awareness about the increasingly alarming situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and attract more funding, we spoke with ALIMA (The Alliance for International Medical Action)’s Head of Mission in DRC, Tinou-paï Blanc, and Program Manager who covers DRC, Dr. Moumouni Kinda, about the needs, the response and the challenges.
Without additional aid, OCHA says some 7.7 million people in DRC will suffer from food insecurity in 2018 and more than 2 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.
People in DRC are suffering from one of the most complex and longest-lasting humanitarian crises in the world. What are some of the challenges of working in this context?
Dr. Kinda: One of the biggest challenges is the ongoing insecurity situation. Armed groups still control many zones, and in many places, there are still frequent attacks; local populations continue to be displaced; people are still being killed. Recent intercommunal conflicts and attacks by armed rebels have also caused people to flee. Logistically, communications are limited, and the road infrastructure is poor. Many areas are isolated, making it difficult to access certain places, to deliver medicines and other supplies, and for staff to reach certain areas where people are living or have fled to.
What are the biggest needs at this moment?
Tinou-paï: The crisis in DRC has been going on for decades. 13.1 millionpeople are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the Humanitarian Plan for 2017-2019, elaborated under the supervision of OCHA/DRC. But there is very much a “donor fatigue.” The response in DRC is greatly underfunded. It is a country where the population affected by the crisis is very much forgotten. Poverty, exacerbated by the conflict and insecurity, makes people - especially women and children - even more vulnerable. OCHA says nearly 1.7 billion dollars is needed this year to respond to humanitarian needs in the country, but so far, the appeal is just 12% funded. . These funding gaps make it difficult to reach many populations who are in desperate need of aid.
Dr. Kinda: The health needs are enormous - many clinics and hospitals have been destroyed; health staff have fled. In Kasai, families have not been able to farm for nearly two years, leaving them without food stocks. The economic situation is such that people have little or no money to afford to eat or pay for health care. Food insecurity and malnutrition are a big problem. DRC also suffers from recurrent disease outbreaks, such as cholera, measles and Ebola, and high rates of malaria. The situation is exacerbated by low vaccination coverage.
All of this means that people are in dire need of help, that there is a humanitarian crisis, a nutritional crisis. Until recently, Kasai, like many areas, was cut off from humanitarian workers. Now, there are many organizations providing aid, trying to support the government. Everyone is doing their best, but there is not nearly enough financing to meet the enormous needs. The reality is the humanitarian needs surpass the capacity of both the government and actors on the ground. Today, even as some displaced persons and refugees are starting to return home, the humanitarian situation remains precarious due to a lack of funding,.
What role has ALIMA been playing in the response?
Tinou-paï: ALIMA continues to work hand-in-hand with the government and other local and international partners to provide medical and nutritional care to children, pre- and post-natal care to pregnant women, support to victims of sexual and gender-based violence and launching emergency interventions in response to disease outbreaks. For example, earlier this year, the country was affected by an outbreak of cholera. ALIMA’s teams were on the ground in the Province of Kasai, Lomami and Kinshasa, to build and equip treatment centers, train health staff to care for suspected patients, and do community outreach to help people understand the symptoms of cholera and prevention measures.
Dr. Kinda: ALIMA has been working in DRC since 2013. While scope of our activities have changed over the years, our goal remains the same: help people in need. This is why, despite the security challenges and the funding difficulties, it is essential that we stay in the country and continue to treat patients. We need to continue to respond to emergencies, such as outbreaks, and provide ongoing medical and nutritional care.
The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) is a medical humanitarian organization that works hand-in-hand with a network of local medical organizations to provide quality medical care to the most vulnerable individuals in emergency situations and recurrent crises. Based in Dakar, Senegal, ALIMA has treated nearly 3 million patients across 12 countries since its creation in 2009, and launched more than a dozen research projects focused on malnutrition, malaria and Ebola.
In DRC, ALIMA continues to support the Ministry of Health to provide medical and nutritional care to local populations, particularly in the Kasai region, where ongoing insecurity and conflict has led to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. In 2017, ALIMA treated more than 16,000 patients for malaria, performed more than 40,000 outpatient care services, administered 7,300 vaccinations and treated more than 3,000 people for cholera.