This is Mwasi Kallunga and her seven children, including her 18-month-old baby, Shabani. You all have this picture in front of you. You can see little Shabani has the distended belly of many malnourished children. I met them last Tuesday in Katanika camp in Kalemie, in the stunning and rich landscape surrounding Lake Tanganyika in Eastern Congo.
Mwasi’s husband and two of her nine children were killed when her village, 50 kilometers away, was attacked and burnt down by militiamen in January. They fled, walked for 2 straight days and now live in squalid conditions under a plastic sheet in a tiny so-called shelter in a congested, cramped, unsanitary, hilly camp at constant risk of fire and flood.
Her children can no longer go to school. Her entire family – traumatized, sobbing and destitute – are too terrified to contemplate returning home.
Mwasi and her children are among the 4.5 million people displaced right now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Humanitarian needs, caused by internal conflict, have doubled over the last year. Thirteen million people need humanitarian assistance. More than 4.6 million children are acutely malnourished, including 2.2 million suffering severe acute malnutrition. We are seeing mushrooming epidemics including the worst outbreak of cholera in 15 years.
There is also an epidemic of sexual violence, most of it unreported and unaddressed, and much of it against children. I am delighted that Jeanine Bandu Bahati had joined us as a briefer this morning and to see Julienne Lusenge, a strong and courageous defender of women’s rights and an activist against sexual violence, in this chamber among the guests. And almost 746,000 Congolese have fled to neighboring countries, while the DRC itself hosts more than 540,000 refugees.
Without a halt to the violence, Mr. President, and a successful political transition, these numbers will all increase.
What Minister Sigrid Kaag of the Kingdom of the Netherlands – with whom I travelled - and I saw last week requires our urgent action.
There is despair, but there is also hope. The people of the DRC are resilient and resourceful. I am very impressed by the selfless solidarity of many Congolese families. They have so little, yet they welcome their brothers and sisters from within and outside the country into their homes when those people are displaced by violence.
And without humanitarian assistance, things would be much worse. In 2017, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners reached more than 4.2 million people with life-saving protection and aid. This year, we aim to reach 10.5 million people. To scale up the response, we have reinforced our leadership, strengthened our field presence, and stepped up our advocacy. Humanitarian agencies continue to deliver despite persistent insecurity and bureaucratic impediments. There have been kidnappings and hijackings of aid workers in recent weeks in Tanganyika.
I had constructive discussions with the authorities on tackling these challenges and on how the Government can fulfill its responsibility for the provision of services and protection to the affected population. And on what they can do to facilitate humanitarian access through quicker issuance of visas, and lower tariffs, fees and faster customs clearance for aid supplies.
Minister Kaag and I also witnessed the signing of a cooperation agreement in Tanganyika between the UN Humanitarian Coordinator and the Provincial Governor to reduce local taxes and fees for humanitarian assistance. The Government in Kinshasa told us they would support similar agreements in other provinces.
I also want, Mr. President, to emphasise the importance of the work of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO. They are creating space for humanitarian delivery and protecting civilians. Things would unquestionably be much worse without them.
Underfunding is the single largest impediment to the humanitarian response in the DRC. This year, our appeal requires US$1.7 billion, nearly four times what we secured last year. The Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, the European Union, and the United Nations will on 13 April in Geneva co-host the first ever High-Level Humanitarian Conference on the DRC. The goal is to secure immediate and substantial financial contributions and to launch a multi-year campaign in support of the DRC.
I ask Council Members today to ensure that the humanitarian situation in the DRC is on the agenda of your Governments and to encourage high-level participation and pledges on 13 April.
We also need solutions to address the root causes of the worsening crisis, including making progress on the political front and fair elections. We need Congo’s neighbors to behave responsibly as well. And while the violence persists, all parties must take steps to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.
Progress in the DRC is possible. Over the last 15 years, since I last visited, infrastructure in many major cities has improved, access to education has increased, child mortality rates have fallen and immunization rates have increased. We need to strengthen our support to the Congolese people.
For Mwasi, the local government and humanitarian agencies provide aid for her survival. Her new neighbours help with food for the children when they can. I asked about her hopes for the future. She wants to be resettled, given a small plot of land to farm, and to get her children back into school. It’s not so much to ask for, is it?
Thank you very much, Mr. President.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.