Between conflict, poverty, malnutrition and an Ebola outbreak, humanitarian needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are among the highest in the world. Almost 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Such is the scale of humanitarian needs that the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan for the DRC comes with the second largest worldwide appeal for funding. The ongoing epidemic of the Ebola virus disease in the east of the DRC is far from under control and has become the second largest outbreak in history.
What are the needs?
For decades, intercommunal violence and armed group attacks in the DRC have caused people to flee for their safety. In Beni, north-eastern DRC, local health authorities report that, in April 2019 alone, violence has driven more than 60,000 people from their homes. According to OCHA, a third wave of violence to hit Djugu since 2017, in the north-eastern province of Ituri, has forced 300,000 people to leave their homes. There are currently 4.8 million people who are displaced within the DRC and more than 856,000 people from the DRC seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. The DRC itself hosts more than 537,000 refugees mainly from Rwanda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Burundi. An estimated 13 million people in the DRC face severe food shortages. According to UNICEF, 4.2 million children under 5 years of age are malnourished and more than 1.3 million among them suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition.
The country currently faces several disease epidemics, including an Ebola outbreak declared in August 2018. The death toll to date stands at more than 1,650. There has been a dramatic increase in confirmed cases since April 2019, with 3 cases detected in Uganda in early June 2019.
Conflict and community resistance hamper Ebola response teams’ efforts in the DRC. There have been armed attacks on Ebola treatment centres and staff. At the same time, mistrust and fear communities from following contagion prevention measures and to refuse treatment or vaccination. As the number of Ebola cases increases, the risk of the virus spreading to neighbouring countries remains high.
How are we helping?
In 2018, EU humanitarian aid in the DRC amounted to almost €65 million. This funding contributed towards helping people affected by violence, acute malnutrition, and epidemics. The priority for 2019 is to provide protection and life-saving assistance to victims of violence and to help curb the Ebola outbreak.
The majority of the EU’s humanitarian funding in the DRC goes to actions in the east of the country where conflict is active. The humanitarian organisations that the EU works with provide emergency healthcare, including care for survivors of sexual violence; provide food assistance and protection; improve water, sanitation and hygiene conditions; and ensure that children caught in humanitarian crises can go to school. The EU’s support also allows humanitarian organisations with specific expertise in nutrition to work in areas that have alarming malnutrition levels, saving the lives of thousands of children.
In response to the two Ebola outbreaks that started in 2018, the EU mobilised considerable support for humanitarian actions on the ground. The EU provided around €17 million in humanitarian aid to the World Health Organization (WHO), UN agencies, the Red Cross movement and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This EU aid is helping with coordination activities, access to healthcare, infection prevention and control measures, support to recovered patients and their families, and safe and dignified burials. EU medical and logistic experts have been deployed to Beni, Butembo, and Goma to provide assistance and advice to the response teams and humanitarian organisations that the EU works with. The EU also provides financial support for the reinforcement of preparedness and prevention measures in neighbouring Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and South Sudan.
In addition to the humanitarian funding provided, as part of its response to the Ebola outbreak in the DRC, the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated. Through the Mechanism, the EU is conducting a series of training sessions, provided by Norwegian teams, on the use of high-tech isolation units for the medical evacuation of Ebola patients. The EU remains on standby to provide further assistance.
The EU also provides logistical support in the DRC through the humanitarian air service known as ECHO Flight. Humanitarian air services are often the only way to reach people in need in remote areas, deliver life-saving supplies and transport aid workers. ECHO flights are also used for medical or security evacuations. The service is free of charge for humanitarian partners and aid organisations.