Millions of people are facing hunger in conflict-hit Democratic Republic of Congo in what is a critically under-funded emergency that could well get worse.
"It's about as bad as it gets," David Beasley, the head of the World Food Programme, warned recently. "If we don't receive funds, food and access immediately, hundreds of thousands of children will die over the next couple of months."
In recognition of the severity of the crisis, Congo has been categorised a "Level 3" emergency by the international relief community, to galvanise the aid response. The measure will last for an initial six months and is focused on the situation in the greater Kasai region, as well as Tanganyika and South Kivu, where conflict and displacement have soared this year.
“The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear,” said Norwegian Refugee Council country director Ulrika Blom. “The UN system-wide L3 response is only activated for the world’s most complex and challenging emergencies, when the entire aid system needs to scale up and respond to colossal needs.”
This is a man-made crisis. Violence in Kasaï, Tanganyika and South Kivu has displaced more than 2.5 million people over the past year. Close to 4.3 million people are estimated to be facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity, according to NRC.
Funding for Congo’s aid appeal has so far covered just 32 percent of needs, the lowest level of funding for the country in more than 10 years.
Eastern Congo has long been a zone of instability, where the government’s reach is weak and contested. But the crisis deepened last year with the emergence of a new anti-government militia in Kasai, a long-standing opposition stronghold and one of the poorest areas of Congo.
The militia, Kamuina Nsapu, launched a series of attacks on police officers, soldiers, and symbols of state authority. The security forces responded with indiscriminate killings of civilians in retaliatory raids – which have left scores of mass graves.
Farmers in Kasai have missed two consecutive planting seasons because of the unrest and the future food situation looks bleak.
The violence has intensified since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his second term ended in December. Congo's political impasse could see a further widening of the conflict, while also having to cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Central African Republic.
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Congo’s government has dismissed claims a new rebellion is brewing in the east. But is it?
Secretary-General António Guterres has just visited CAR, but how can the UN respond to the scale of this humanitarian disaster?
The army has won plaudits from the UN for no longer using child soldiers, but progress could easily be undone.
President Joseph Kabila’s determination to cling on to power has Congo on the brink.
Inside Congo’s spiralling Kasai conflict.