Back From the Field: DRC

WHEN: January 24-February 12
WHERE: Democratic Republic of Congo (North Kivu and Kinshasa Provinces)
RI TEAM: Caelin Briggs, Advocate; Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocate

Over more than two decades, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu Province has seen repeated cycles of intense fighting and displacement. Following the latest outbreak of violence in April – between the Congolese Amy and members of the M23 rebel group – the number of internally-displaced people in North Kivu stands at 914,000. Of those, only 112,000 live in official camps which are managed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and recognized by the Congolese government. The rest live either with host families or in so-called ‘spontaneous settlements’. These settlements have not been served effectively by aid agencies.

RI’s team found significant gaps in assistance and protection at spontaneous settlements throughout the province. Residents told RI’s team that deliveries of food and other aid are both infrequent and inadequate. Women in the settlements are forced to forage in the surrounding forests for food, water, and firewood, exposing them to attacks from rebels and other armed groups. Sexual violence is a daily concern, both in the form of opportunistic rape and survival sex. Children receive insufficient food, and schools are shut down for use as shelters.

The UN and its partners have clearly been overwhelmed by the most recent wave of displacement in North Kivu. Going forward, however, it is vital that their response plan reflects the needs on the ground and treats all displaced Congolese equally.

RI’s team developed the following recommendations based on interviews with displaced people, aid groups, peacekeepers, and local NGOs:

  • There must be a new, holistic system of humanitarian coordination at camps and spontaneous sites, and it must prioritize all IDPs equally. UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and the Congolese government must agree on how to work collaboratively, and coordination must occur at the national level to ensure that displaced people in all provinces are assisted.
  • The $30.5 million North Kivu Response Plan needs to be fully funded to allow humanitarian organizations to meet the basic needs of the displaced. The resulting assistance must include increased distributions of food, water, and firewood to prevent women from having to forage in unsafe forest areas. Additionally, camp coordination – both for official and spontaneous sites – must be prioritized in future funding allocations.
  • The third allocation of Stabilization and Reconstruction Plan for Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (STAREC) funds for sexual violence programming must be released immediately to increase coordination and service provision on preventing and responding to gender-based violence in North Kivu.