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Conflict cuts off civilians in DRC's Katanga

KATANGA, 2 May 2013 (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Katanga Province have received little or no humanitarian aid in the months since having fled ongoing conflict.

In one territory, Malemba Nkulu, the number of displaced is estimated to have risen from 12,000 to 42,000 between December 2012 and January 2013, and no food distribution has yet been organized. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says, "The global acute malnutrition rate is above 19 percent, and the severely malnourished need treatment.”

"Nineteen percent global acute malnutrition is nearly twice the emergency threshold level," Quoc Nguyen, head of operations for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Katanga, told IRIN, adding that seven territories in Katanga have acute malnutrition rates above the 10 percent level.

UNICEF is assisting children and pregnant and lactating women suffering from acute malnutrition in several territories, including Pweto and Manono, where the rate is also above 19 percent; however this treatment is still not available in Malemba Nkulu. "There's no programme in Malemba Nkulu because of lack of funding, lack of access, insecurity and a lack of partners who can implement a programme," said Nguyen.

Malnutrition is a major contributor to the under-five mortality rate in the province, which UNICEF's latest survey put at 188 per 1,000. In its 16 April bulletin for DRC, OCHA said that in Malemba Nkulu "no humanitarian intervention has been implemented mainly because of difficulties of access and lack of funding".

Displaced people in the neighbouring territory of Manono - recently estimated to number 31,000 - have not had a food distribution since September, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) told IRIN this week, although a convoy of food trucks has just been sent there. WFP has distributed food in the past month at or near most of the other major population centres in Katanga where large numbers of displaced people have gathered.

But of 17,000 people who were displaced this year in the territories of Kalemie, Moba and Manono, most have not yet received any aid, nor have the 747 families living on the route from Mitwaba to Kisele, OCHA reported on 23 April.

Continued displacement

The total number of displaced in Katanga is estimated by the Commission on Population Movements (CMP) - an official body which collects data from aid workers - to have risen from 64,082 in December 2011 to 353,931 currently.

"Needs are… enormous both among the displaced and the host population," OCHA said in a report published on April 10. "Many IDPs have become more vulnerable due to repeated displacements, often across vast distances."

An upsurge in violence by Mai-Mai militia groups has been causing waves of displacement since late 2011. WFP's head of operations in Katanga, Amadou Samake, said the so-called 'triangle of death' between Mitwaba, Manono and Pweto had been emptied of most of its population - 75,000 households - by April 2012. By the end of last year, the displaced already numbered more than 300,000.

The flow outwards from conflict zones has continued, and Mai-Mai violence has spread west and south, to Malemba Nkulu, Lubudi and Kambove territories.

On 17 February, a gang from the newly created Mai-Mai militia known as Kata Katanga (meaning 'cut off Katanga') killed three officials and drove out the population at Kinsevere, only 40km from Lubumbashi, the provincial capital.

On 23 March, some 400 lightly armed Kata Katanga members marched from the bush to the centre of Lubumbashi, unopposed, before they were forced to surrender after a shootout with the elite Republican Guard.

Amid the persistent insecurity, fewer than the 10 percent of the displaced have returned to their villages, Samake estimates.

WFP assisted 250,000 people in Katanga last year, he said, but has not had the resources to guarantee the displaced three months of rations, the standard the agency aims for in North Kivu. Currently, he said, the agency has 5,915 tons in stock or en route and would need an additional 10,383 tons to feed 320,000 displaced people in Katanga through the second quarter of 2013.

If the displaced do not soon return to their villages, Samake added, another year of missed harvests will worsen food security across the province.

UNICEF's Nguyen commented that much of Katanga was already in the grip of a food security crisis before the Mai-Mai’s resurgence in 2011. "There is a lack of basic services in every sector - health, water, nutrition and agriculture - and the conflict and displacement make an already bad situation much worse," he said.

Deteriorating security

OCHA reports the security situation worsened in April in Pweto, Manono and Mitwaba territories, with attacks by Mai-Mai groups on a dozen villages.

The national army, FARDC, recently retook the town of Shamwana, at the centre of 'the triangle of death', but International Crisis Group (ICG) analyst Thierry Vircoulon says the military seems to be having little success in suppressing the Mai-Mai. At the start of 2013, the army had only 1,000 men available in Katanga, but their number is now up to 2,500, UN sources told IRIN.

Central Katanga has been unstable since Mai-Mai commander Gedeon Mtanga escaped from prison in September 2011. He and more than 1,000 of his followers were freed from Lubumbashi's central jail by eight armed men in broad daylight; there was speculation that the jail break was arranged by local power holders. Gedeon had led a Mai-Mai group known for its brutality and attacks on civilians from 2002 to 2007. Africa Confidential reported on 1 March that "his ambition is to root out the old order" and "his men have killed at least 15 traditional chiefs in Nord Mitwaba alone".

According to OCHA, the other main driver of instability in the province is Kata Katanga, which has also been fighting FARDC.

Like the brutal Mai-Mai group Morgan, in DRC's Orientale Province, the Kata Katanga and Gedeon Mai-Mai seem to get much of their income from poaching, rather than minerals or agriculture. Therefore, they may not need much support from the local population.

There are no recent figures for the Mai-Mai in Katanga, but ICG estimated they might have numbered 5,000 to 8,000 in 2005.

Following the bloody suppression of a Kata Katanga rally in Lubumbashi on 23 March, a report by local civil society activists accused senior members of the regime of providing the group with arms and funding.

ICG's Vircoulon told IRIN he believes that several local “barons” are behind the Kata Katanga.

The DRC's former police chief General John Numbi - a native of Malemba Nkulu who built his career as a political organizer among the Balubakat, President Joseph Kabila's ethnic group - may have held the key to security in the province. ICG reports that Numbi was supplying Gedeon with arms from 2002 to 2004. Later, he organized the manhunt that led to the Mai-Mai leader's capture.

In 2010, Numbi was suspended as police chief following allegations that he was responsible for the murder of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya.

Significantly, Gedeon and many of his followers were captured in 2007, after Kabila had won elections with support from a broad coalition in Katanga and elsewhere in the country. That coalition is now crumbling, allowing armed groups to be reactivated in many areas of eastern DRC.

Protection needs

An April report by OCHA in Katanga concludes: "Given the duration of the current conflict, humanitarian actors do not expect to see any improvements in terms of displacement numbers or humanitarian needs in the coming months."

The report highlights alleged abuses by the army as well the Mai-Mai, including allegations that 50 women and 20 girls were detained for two days and repeatedly raped by soldiers in February 2012.

"Without an increased presence" of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), says OCHA, "such abuses will continue and may even increase, as will further displacements".

Currently there are 450 blue helmets in Katanga, an area the size of France.

The report also calls for a political solution to the conflict in Katanga, for the government to reinitiate its programme to disarm, demobilize and re-integrate the Mai-Mai, and for humanitarian actors to establish contact with Mai-Mai groups so as to facilitate humanitarian access and sensitize the combatants on international humanitarian law.

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Theme (s): Children, Conflict, Food Security, Governance, Health & Nutrition, Refugees/IDPs, Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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