Every year, for nearly two decades, the humanitarian community has responded to large-scale and complex crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This year, on the assumption that the crises are likely to continue, donors have agreed to fund longer-term and more flexible humanitarian projects in DRC.
For the first time, a common humanitarian fund (CHF) administered by the UN in Kinshasa will be financing projects of up to 24 months’ duration, instead of the current 12-month limit.
A review of the project proposals should be finalized in July; this year, the CHF hopes to receive US$70 million for multi-year funding (out of an $893 million humanitarian appeal for the country).
Multi-year funding is an innovation for the humanitarian system, said Gemma Cortes, interim head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) financing unit in Kinshasa.
“We’re initiating this in the Congo,” she told IRIN. “There’s been a big discussion about this for years here. Now, the great challenge will be to link all the projects to development projects.”
OCHA says these “transitional” projects “will address recurrent humanitarian needs that require sustainable interventions of a kind that help[s] build community resilience” and will “reduce the number of short-term emergency actions that respond more to symptoms than to causes”.
Other projects funded with the $70 million “will reinforce emergency response capability” and “help build national NGOs’ capacity”. OCHA also foresees better data collection and monitoring, and as well as costs savings.
“It should help to save costs on, for example, transport, recruitment, training and assimilation [of knowledge],” Cortes says.
The CHF is also considering streamlining programmes. For example, it could fund two organizations to do the kind of work done previously by eight separate, shorter projects.
Cortes sees a trend in project proposals towards greater promotion of agriculture and livelihoods, as well as more durable solutions to water and hygiene needs.
“Agriculture is one of the sectors where the envelope has increased the most. Agencies and NGOs can now go beyond emergency activities to reinforcing capacities, introducing different agricultural and food-processing techniques, doing market studies and training cooperatives. We have also received a lot of proposals for buying and distributing goats, sheep and rabbits.”
She estimates that around 15 percent of the multi-year funding might go to agricultural projects and 30 percent to livelihoods projects, although the final allocation has yet to be decided.
“It’s been very well received by aid workers, NGOs and by local communities. It was something lacking before. Each time we came and did the same thing, and they wanted something more lasting.”
Olivia Kalis, protection and advocacy manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Goma, eastern DRC, agrees but suggests there is still debate over what is “more lasting”.
“If we have short-term cycles only, people end up doing the same things, so it’s very good that the CHF is now offering 24-month cycles. But a lot more work needs to be done to understand what resilience means in this context,” Kalis said
As the concept of resilience has been mainstreamed in aid agency circles, its definition has broadened.
Christophe Béné, a research fellow at the UK Institute of Development Studies (IDS), spoke at a recent IDS seminar about how the term has evolved. “Initially,” he said, “resilience was simply about the capacity for recovery and bouncing back. And now, with time passing, we have got more and more people saying resilience is about learning and adapting. Recently, now, we have got anticipating and preventing [crises].”
Incorporating all of these meanings, a recent definition from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said resilience is “the ability to avoid disasters and crises or to anticipate, absorb, adapt to and recover from risks… in a timely and efficient manner”.
The UN World Food Programme’s coordinator in eastern DRC, Wolfram Herfurth, says resilience basically means self-reliance, and he suggests a practical way to ensure vulnerable communities are self-reliant.
“Let’s not make this a rocket science. We have to provide simple, palatable livelihood options for people in camps. Since we know that about 85 percent of these displaced people are farmers, it’s logical - we’re looking at the closest solution - to provide farmers with tools and seeds so they can produce their own food and no longer need free handouts,” he said.
“That is the fundamental approach. But the biggest obstacle is that, where the displaced people are now, there’s mostly no free land available.”
To this end, Herfurth proposes that agreements be struck with landowners to allocate land, either long-term or temporarily, to the displaced, who would then be assisted with seeds, tools and food aid until their first harvest.
Several initiatives in North Kivu are aiming to help the displaced gain access to land, either their own (many displaced people return home to find their land occupied) or land where they have found refuge. The CHF has a brief to support these initiatives.
Still, land is a delicate issue; NRC and UN Habitat have the biggest land dispute mediation programmes in DRC, but there are strict limits to what they can achieve, says NRC’s Kalis.
“The scale [of mediation] is very small in comparison with the problem. A lot of these disputes are over just a few metres of land. Once the military are involved, our commissions [local committees set up by NRC] can’t deal with that - it’s too dangerous,” she said.
Large tracts of land in the Kivus are owned by senior army officers.
“We need to talk about political solutions [to the land problem],” says Kalis. “Donors need to push for these things.”
Helping displaced people farm is not the only resilience-building activity aid workers are proposing.
IRIN also interviewed the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Oxfam, NRC and Catholic Relief Services and found a wide range of resilience activities proposed, notably information campaigns to help the displaced secure their rights and access aid, and the construction of more durable facilities to help them integrate with host communities.
UNICEF emphasized project proposals to build more durable classrooms and sanitation systems. NRC spoke of its work helping displaced children enrol in schools. Oxfam said it was planning to extend water systems and sanitation in host community areas.
The emphasis on host communities is essential, aid workers say, because most aid has been focused on camps even though most displaced people live with host families and will often settle in those communities.
“Many of the displaced are highly unlikely to go home,” said Tariq Riebl, Oxfam’s coordinator in North Kivu. “If you look at the history of Goma, many camps have been transformed into neighbourhoods - we find it quite negative that the state is still bulldozing camps.”
“If we see a willingness by the state to give the displaced residency rights, we could start to provide schooling, health centres, etc. But the government is resisting this,” he said.
There is also a trend towards focusing on more urban areas. In peri-urban areas where the state does not own land, it may need to deal with landowners to ensure displaced people can find homes, Riebl said.
Focusing aid on more easily accessible areas rather than trying to reach remote villages is also pragmatic, he points out.
“The support costs of trying to run projects in an area like Walikale [one of North Kivu’s more remote territories] are enormous. No one is going to pay for all the land cruisers. Donors are looking for value for money.”
Security is also a serious concern for projects in rural areas. A worker with FAO told a recent journalists’ seminar in Goma that agricultural project workers could not do anything if there was not security.
More business surveys will be needed to help guide the displaced towards viable livelihoods, in either urban or rural areas, Herfurth told IRIN.
“We need more development experts,” he said. “Maybe the number of relief workers here should shrink and the number of economists and agricultural engineers should increase,” he said.
“But we also need to change the chemistry between the humanitarians and the DRC government to agree that - given there’s more stability and peace - we focus on more durable interventions.
“Certainly the humanitarians themselves cannot easily do this alone. They need decisions by the government and coordination at village and provincial level. Different political levels need to play together.”