Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Democratic Republic of the Congo: NGOs Ignoring Crisis in North Kivu

July 18, 2007

Contacts: Rick Neal and Sayre Nyce
ri@refugeeesinternational.org or 202-828-0110

Refugees International Bulletin

Democratic Republic of Congo: NGOs Ignoring Crisis in North Kivu

More than 160,000 Congolese have abandoned their homes since January 2007, when Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda, fresh from a peace deal brokered by his patron, Rwanda , began deploying troops across the eastern province of North Kivu . Quick action has brought immediate relief for some, but few humanitarian organizations, despite the availability of funding, have stepped forward to help as the crisis deepens and needs grow more acute.

The surge in displacement in North Kivu has been a predictable, if disturbing, aberration from the general progress made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) towards peace and recovery from war. The United Nations estimates that, cumulatively, 163,000 have fled since January, including thousands in the past week alone, and that another 170,000 could be displaced by the end of the year. The most affected areas are the territories of Rutshuru and Masisi in the southern part of the province, surrounding the city of Goma .

For some time, the population has lived with extortion and human rights abuses from two sides: the Congolese national army (the FARDC) and the remnants of the Hutu regime that orchestrated the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 (the FDLR). Laurent Nkunda and his troops make up a third force, which is now the most serious threat to civilians. Nkunda, supported by Tutsi-dominated Rwanda , is a renegade from the Congolese army and has long resisted efforts to integrate his Tutsi fighters with the FARDC and see them dispersed across the country.

The first wave of displacement occurred in January 2007 when Nkunda deployed troops rapidly into Rutshuru and Masisi. The arrival of Tutsi soldiers allied with Rwanda terrified the local Hutu population, and tens of thousands left their homes and fields for the safety of areas held by the FARDC. Nkunda's troops used the announcement of a formal FARDC offensive against the FDLR in April 2007 as an excuse to target civilians, accusing them of collaborating with the FDLR, and provoking a second wave of displacement. A third wave is now underway as the FDLR retaliates, accusing civilians in turn of collaborating with Nkunda.

One particularly hard-hit area lies to the north of Goma between Kiwanja and Nyamilima, near the border with Uganda . Abandoned villages line the road while the people hide in the forest, surviving as best they can. Tens of thousands have made their way to Nyongera, Kinyandoni, and Ngwenda, just north of Kiwanja, where they have found shelter with host families or in camps. Faced with the influx, residents have opened their doors, sharing their limited resources, which are already under strain due to drought. As one woman, who gave over part of her house to a family of six, explained, no one from the government or the humanitarian community has asked her what she needs or offered to help.

In some areas, many of the displaced, if not their hosts, do receive initial assistance. The World Food Programme (WFP) in North Kivu has dramatically improved its operations over the past year, and it strives to provide a full ration of food (2,100 calories per day) each month for 11,550 households in Rutshuru Territory . Many displaced also receive basic household items like plastic tarps, buckets, and blankets through the Rapid Response Mechanism, established in 2006 by UNICEF and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to ensure immediate assessment of needs and delivery of aid to newly displaced people in eastern DRC. Solidarités, the implementing agency for the Mechanism in North Kivu , also repairs water systems and installs temporary latrines for the displaced.

Beyond these immediate efforts, however, little help is available. Solidarités, as part of its duties, notifies other agencies of unmet needs, but there is no follow-up. Doctors Without Borders no longer provides free primary care for the displaced in North Kivu , a shift humanitarian actors were at a loss to explain. Those in need of healthcare sell their food rations to pay for care or forgo treatment altogether; in addition, the humanitarian community lost a credible source of data needed to assess the severity of the crisis and plan an effective response. UNICEF has been able to organize an innovative project with the local health department to provide free care, but only in six health centers in Rutshuru. Public health activities are also limited. The displaced do not have mosquito nets to protect themselves against malaria and HIV prevention is ignored, to the extent that some displaced said that they had heard of condoms on the radio but had never seen one.

One of the most serious gaps is in site management, which usually refers to planning and operating large, formal refugee camps. In this context, such camps are unnecessary; needs could be well met in the current arrangement of small, informal sites and host families. Currently, however, the displaced and their leaders are left to fend for themselves in setting up shelters and negotiating with local authorities for help. Registration is chaotic and numbers are inflated in the hope of procuring more assistance, which has the opposite effect as donors mistrust the process. Sites are not protected, with armed soldiers from nearby military camps wandering around at will. There is no screening process for new arrivals, leaving those who might need immediate assistance such as malnourished children, the elderly, pregnant women, and the sick to wait, sometimes for months, for the next distribution of food. Even help to reunite children separated from their families, a common aspect of humanitarian assistance in the DRC, is not assured.

In Masisi Territory , to the west of Rutshuru, even basic assistance is largely unavailable. Solidarités has just begun to visit concentrations of displaced people, but Caritas, WFP's implementing partner, does not have the means to distribute food there, and there is no medical agency to care for the displaced. In Buhabo, near the territorial capital of Masisi Center , the local chief has managed to find housing for the increasing number of displaced people fleeing Nkunda's forces, but his requests for help from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have gone unanswered. Even easily accessible areas, such as Minova, on the shores of Lake Kivu , do not get assistance because agencies working in the area do not have the capacity to respond.

Humanitarian response overall in the Kivus has improved this past year, especially with the advent of the Rapid Response Mechanism. However, the current crisis in North Kivu shows its limitations. When Solidarités had trouble meeting its obligations under the Mechanism because of the unexpectedly large movement of displaced people, UNICEF offered it increased funding to meet their needs. Solidarités refused, citing institutional inability to manage a larger project. UNICEF was then unable to find additional partners who could mobilize quickly to fill the gap. Likewise, Caritas has been denied support from the Pooled Fund, a donor mechanism controlled by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Kinshasa , to improve its capacity to distribute food for WFP. WFP has not been able to find another partner, with the displaced suffering the consequences. OCHA and sectoral lead agencies are simply unable to catalyze an appropriate response to the crisis; coordination of assistance has improved but advocacy is ineffective.

In fact, there are a number of humanitarian agencies, such as CARE International, Action Against Hunger, and Catholic Relief Services, that work in other parts of the Congo - and even other parts of North Kivu - but have not bothered to respond to the needs of the newly displaced. Such an emergency response, following the start of a shift to longer-term development, does not fit with their strategy or does not appear warranted. Needs are always high in the DRC and logistics are difficult. Finding staff is a challenge, and the humanitarian crisis in the DRC has dragged on for years. These explanations, however, are untenable under the circumstances; even insecurity, which is worrisome, has not prevented the United Nations and NGOs such as Solidarités from operating. In the face of ongoing attacks and displacement, the rest of the humanitarian community must shake off its complacency and start meeting its obligations.

REFUGEES INTERNATIONAL RECOMMENDS:

  • NGOs immediately assess and respond to unmet needs among the newly displaced in the territories of Rutshuru and Masisi in North Kivu .
  • The DRC Humanitarian Coordinator and OCHA, as well as the US Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance and the European Community Humanitarian Office, step up pressure on NGOs to respond immediately to the crisis in North Kivu .
  • WFP find ways to increase and improve food distribution and monitoring by Caritas or find a new partner.
  • Medical NGOs begin offering health care to the displaced in Masisi, and NGOs like Oxfam implement public health projects to prevent malaria and AIDS.
  • UNICEF and Solidarités construct emergency water systems for the displaced north of Kiwanja to pump, treat, and distribute river water.
  • CARE International or other qualified organizations, led by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, intervene quickly in site management, to support committees representing the displaced, ensure proper registration, protect camp sites, and screen new arrivals for those needing immediate assistance.

Advocates Rick Neal and Sayre Nyce visited North Kivu in June 2007.

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