Thursday, January 21, 2010

IDPs: Africa - Feeding and treating the displaced in three very poor rich countries

BY BABUKAR KASHKA Republished kind permission of IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NAIROBI (IDN) – You may righty complain of having to go through bureaucratic paperwork and wait in long queues before getting a permission to – say -- paint a wall with your favourite colour. Well, multiply your situation by 100,000 and you will get the number of human beings lining up to have some food, medicines and a shelter.

This is exactly the case of 107,000 Congolese who have been forced to leave everything behind to flee ethnic conflicts in Equateur province in north-west Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) since November last year.

The UN refugee agency began registering them on Jan. 15 “to ascertain the number of refugees and to properly identify them,” according to Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“We will also be profiling refugee families to determine their specific needs and cater our assistance programs accordingly.”

A former Belgian colony, the DR Congo was known until 1997 as Zaire. It is the third largest country in Africa, with 2.34 million sq km and more than 68 million inhabitants.

Also called Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from the Republic of Congo or Congo-Brazzaville (both after their respective capitals), DR Congo is one of the poorest African countries, with life expectancy of only 46 years for men and 49 years for women. Malnutrition affects two-thirds of the population.


The registration process started in Lukouala region in northern Republic of Congo, which hosts more than 60 per cent of the estimated 107,000 DR Congo refugees.

The operation is being carried out on a 500-kilometres long stretch of territory along the Oubangui River. Therefore it is logistically challenging given that the majority of the refugees are in areas that can be reached only by boats.

“The water levels are receding and we are running against time to complete the registration within two months before the dry season sets in and rivers become too low for navigation”, Mahecic explained.

But the UNHCR is continuing to deliver emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting for shelter, kitchen sets, sleeping mats and mosquito nets, to the Congolese who left their homeland last year.


The Congolese refugees fled Equateur province after fighting erupted in late October when Enyele militiamen launched deadly assaults on ethnic Munzayas over fishing and farming rights in the Dongo area.

The Enyele rebel movement was created on Nov. 8 in Dongo after the Enyele tribe clashed with the ethnic Munzayas’ Boba tribe over the control of local fishing grounds. DR Congo government announced a toll of 187 civilians, 82 insurgents and 28 police officers.

Houses and fields have been torched in the confrontation, which has also displaced tens of thousands of people who are taking shelter either domestically or in the Republic of Congo.

A former French colony, the Republic of the Congo or Congo-Brazzaville has 3,7 million inhabitants and it is also among the poorest countries in Africa, where life expectancy is of 53 years for men and 55 years for women.

Tensions have since spread to most parts of the Equateur province and the DR Congo army launched an offensive against the militia.

In addition to those seeking refuge in northern Republic of Congo, the UN has registered some 18,000 Congolese who fled to the Central African Republic, former French colony, and more are continuing to arrive there.

Also a former French colony, the Central African Republic covers 622,984 sq kilometres, hosting 4.4 million inhabitants, with a life expectancy average of 45 years for men and 48 years for women, and GNI per capita of 410 dollars.

For its part, the UN World Food Programme has provided month-long rations of maize, beans, vegetable oil and salt for internally displaced persons within Equateur province. Refugees who fled into Republic of Congo started receiving food aid at the end of November, but their numbers have now swelled.

Back in Equateur province, UNHCR is participating in an inter-agency humanitarian assessment mission to identify the needs of an estimated 90,000 internally displaced persons affected by the recent ethnic violence and tensions.


A massive influx of 125,000 refugees from the DR Congo into neighbouring Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, after deadly ethnic clashes, is severely stretching the meagre resources of the impoverished region, the UN refugee agency reported on Jan. 12.

There is an acute need for formal refugee sites to be established in both Central African Republic and Republic of Congo, as the majority of the DR Congo refugees occupy public buildings and spaces, Mahecic reported and warned that the influx could lead to tensions with the local community.

The situation is so dramatic that in Mougoumba in the Central African Republic -- where 17,000 people have fled, 60 per cent of them children and many from orphanages -- the refugees outnumber the locals by 200 to one, while the Likouala region of northern Republic of Congo has seen its population double with the arrival of 107,000 refugees.

So far, land has been allocated to accommodate 4,000 refugees in Republic of Congo, more space needs to be designated for refugee sites.


This dramatic scenario is taking place in three former European colonies with precious natural resources.

For instance, the DR Congo is the world's largest producer of cobalt ore and a major producer of copper and industrial diamonds.

It has significant deposits of tantalum, which is used in the fabrication of electronic components in computers and mobile phones.

Smuggling of coltan and cassiterite, the ores of tantalum and tin has helped fuel the war in the Eastern Congo. Katanga Mining Limited, a London-based company, owns the Luilu Metallurgical Plant, which has a capacity of 175,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of cobalt per year, making it the largest cobalt refinery in the world.

For its part, the Republic of Congo’s economy has been a mixture of rural agriculture and handicrafts, industrial sector based largely on petroleum, support services.

But petroleum extraction has supplanted forestry as the mainstay of the economy. In 2008, oil sector accounted for 65 percent of the GDP, 85 percent of government revenue, and 92 percent of exports. Natural gas and diamonds are also recent major Congolese exports.

The Republic of the Congo also has base metal, gold, iron and phosphate deposits.

Meanwhile, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world and among the ten poorest in Africa.

It exports locally produced alcohol, diamonds, and ivory. But diamonds constitute its most important export, accounting for 40-55 percent of export revenues. However, an estimated 30-50 percent of the diamonds produced each year leave the country clandestinely.

The massive exploitation of the three countries’ natural resources by giant multinationals has been among the main causes of poverty, tribal conflicts and brutal human rights abuses.

In the case of DR Congo, armed groups reportedly supported by multinationals, have been resorting to rape and sexual violence as a war tool to terrorise local communities and force them to flee far away from sites where some of the most precious resources of the world are being exploited. Up to 300,000 cases of rape affecting women, young girls and also boys, have been reported.

All that and many more atrocities are known to former European colonies and Western multinationals everywhere in Africa.

But these are buried in silence: never have these topped the agenda of any G8 summit. Apparently, mounting wars and rescuing banks are still a high priority for the world's richest countries. (IDN-InDepthNews/19.01.2010)

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