DR Congo displaced people face deadly effects of chronic underfunding


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is warning that massive funding gaps are threatening hundreds of thousands of lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where surging violence and COVID-19 are exacerbating already dire conditions for millions of forcibly displaced people.

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said that as of June 07, DRC has recorded 4,105 confirmed cases of COVID-19 – the second largest number in the Southern Africa region while at the same time, surging violence is uprooting hundreds of thousands more people in the east of the country.

Baloch is warning that without an urgent injection of cash, underfunding will have a devastating impact on critical lifesaving humanitarian programmes. He said that activities to assist and protect the refugees and the displaced are only 20% funded of the US$168 million needed.

“This gap is seriously undermining our response to bring aid to the multiple humanitarian emergencies, leaving many vulnerable without food, water, shelter, health and hygiene facilities amid a rapid spread of COVID-19 across the country,” Baloch said.

People uprooted in DR Congo by repeated cycles of conflict, represent Africa’s largest internal displacement situation – 10% of the global numbers of internally displaced people.

Over the past few months, hundreds of thousands more people have been displaced in eastern and northern DRC following brutal attacks by various armed groups, intercommunal violence and natural disasters.

The country also hosts over half a million refugees – mainly from Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan.

Baloch said UNHCR is forced to make difficult choices that result in many of those in dire need not getting the assistance they require.

“We are working to help the most vulnerable to the extent possible, minimum standards in health, water and sanitation, education and other basic needs are often hard to meet with limited resources available for all populations,” Baloch continued.

In South Ubangi’s Mole refugee camp, additional resources are needed to ensure that 15,000 refugees from CAR have access to the minimum water requirement of 20 litres per person per day. This is particularly important now, when, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, refugees and their hosts communities need potable water to protect them against endemic cholera and what is now the world’s longest running measles crisis.

Current available funding also limits UNHCR’s interventions to support the 120,000 refugees from the CAR living outside of camps, who constitute about 70% of refugees from CAR in the DRC.

Baloch said the continued underfunding undermines UNHCR’s shelter programmes, and specifically its work to decongest displaced sites and hosting areas. He said more funding is needed to provide durable housing solutions which will contribute to reduce public health risks.

The outbreak of COVID-19 further aggravates the risks faced by displaced families who are unable to return home due to the ongoing violence, and who often live in overcrowded displacement sites or with impoverished host families.

“We have just received US$ 400,000 for COVID-19 prevention measures in DRC,” Baloch ended. (Source: UNHCR)