Friday, May 30, 2014

Africa: Little Assistance for the Displaced in DRC's "Triangle of Death"

Source: Refugees International
Little Assistance for the Displaced in DRC's "Triangle of Death"

By Michelle Brown

“There was war in my home. The Mai Mai came to our village and burned everything there. I came here with my wife and eight children two months ago with nothing but the clothes on our backs. I came to this village to try to get some food.” These are the words of Emmanuel, an internally displaced man in northern Katanga Province. “Look,” he said, pointing to a makeshift house of branches and leaves. “We have no shelter, and no food.”

My colleague Michael and I met Emmanuel in a village 15 miles outside of a town called Manono. The roads immediately outside of Manono town could hardly be considered roads. They are hardly better than sand trails. Having travelled to many countries with poor roads, I have never seen roads this bad. The rainy season ended a couple of months ago, but delivering assistance in the rainy season is unimaginable. Indeed, IDPs in this village have yet to receive any assistance.

In 2011, Bakata Katanga, a Mai Mai group with a self-proclaimed secessionist agenda, began terrorizing civilians in the area between the towns of Manono, Pweto and Mitwaba – known as the “Triangle of Death.” The affected area continues to grow. Bakata Katanga has burned entire villages to the ground, has raped, looted, and conscripted children. The displaced people we interviewed were terrified of them. The situation here has further deteriorated over the past 18 months, as a conflict between the Batwa, popularly known as the Pygmy, and the Bantu population has become increasingly brutal.

In the past three years, the number of internally displaced people (IDP) in Katanga has jumped to 500,000, roughly a quarter of DRC’s IDP population. But while there are around 500 humanitarian actors working in North Kivu, there are only 68 in Katanga—a province that is exponentially larger. Only 450 UN peacekeepers out of the 20,000 currently operating in DRC are based in Katanga. The words “silent crisis” were echoed repeatedly by all the humanitarians that we interviewed.

The small numbers of humanitarian actors present in northern Katanga desperately want to help, but a lack of funding limits what they can do. “Lifesaving assistance” has become the mantra when speaking about humanitarian assistance. People fled without their seeds and tools and can’t grow food. But due to funding cuts to the World Food Program, only some of the most vulnerable who have been recently displaced receive three months of food rations. Some agencies are distributing items like plastic sheeting so people can build shelters, blankets, and jerry cans so people can transport water. But not all of the displaced receive assistance. And even funding for this limited assistance is scarce.
The women here lack sanitary supplies, and many displaced children cannot afford to pay school fees and don’t attend school. Services for survivors of rape are almost non-existent. But such programs aren’t considered “lifesaving” and therefore are not a priority.

As in other parts of the DRC, most IDPs live with host families who have difficulty feeding their own families. RI met with Beatrice, a member of a host family living in Manono town. Five displaced families were living with her. “Our relationship with them is a bit complicated because there are so many people living together and not enough food to go around. We barely had enough before these people arrived, and now we are all sharing what little we have.” With few exceptions, host families do not receive assistance.

The crisis in northern Katanga continues to grow, and each day more people have to flee their homes. The humanitarian response has yet to catch up to the reality on the ground. Growing numbers of people lack access to food, water, health care, education, and protection. It is time for the government of the DRC, the UN, and donors to recognize the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Katanga, search for political solutions to the two crises there, and increase funding to a level that enables humanitarian agencies to assist IDPs.