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Brussels, 5 March 2012

The European Commission's humanitarian work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva begins a four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Her aim is to raise awareness within the international community of the humanitarian needs and the demands for relief in Africa's second largest country.

The DRC is experiencing one of the world's most drawn-out emergencies and needs urgent help. The European Commission is at the forefront of providing this help - it will channel 59 million of humanitarian funds to the DRC in 2012, a 10 per cent increase compared to last year.

Humanitarian situation in the DRC

The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world. Despite abundant resources and relative political stability in recent years, it is at the bottom of the 2011 Human Development Index.

Out of a population of around 66 million, 1.7 million people are currently displaced. The humanitarian situation remains precarious due to the risk of indiscriminate violence, the difficulty to access basic services and the effect of insecurity on harvests.

Such serious problems mean that the DRC is facing several humanitarian crises simultaneously: in the eastern Kivu provinces there are confrontations between the national armed forces and armed rebel groups; in the north-eastern Orientale province there are repeated attacks committed by or attributed to the rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); and also ethnic conflicts are rife in the north-western Equator province.

On top of internal displacement, there are approximately 426,000 Congolese refugees in neighbouring Tanzania, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville) and South Sudan.

The European Commission's humanitarian response

In its humanitarian work, the European Commission focuses on alleviating the effects of displacement, the violation of human rights and the atrocities committed against civilians. Most recipients of the European Commission's humanitarian assistance are the direct victims of recent and ongoing conflicts and the host communities where the displaced have found shelter.

Health: The DRC regularly faces epidemics, especially cholera and measles, which kill thousands of people. The spread and high impact of these diseases is boosted by poverty, which leads to shortage of routine vaccinations, bad and inefficient control at entry points (borders, ports, etc.). The European Commission finances projects to improve access to health care in the areas affected by irregular population movements, epidemics or other emergencies.

The conflict in the DRC has been marked by a number of human rights abuses including the use of sexual violence. Most of victims are women and girls. The Commission-funded Panzi Hospital in Bukavu has treated 26,983 women, from 2004 to 2011, for gynaecological disorders, most of them severe cases of reproductive or sexual trauma.

Nutrition: Sufficient and regular access to nutrition is a bigger challenge in the central part of the DRC than in the conflict areas, where the long-established presence of humanitarian organisations has largely alleviated nutrition concerns.

Food insecurity is caused by displacement, violence and disease. The European Commission supports vulnerable populations to find new ways to make a living after their lives have been disrupted by conflict. The Commission encourages its partners on the ground to use the assistance that best suits local conditions – for example, through cash and vouchers where this is feasible.

Water, Sanitation, Environment and Hygiene Promotion: Access to clean water and basic sanitation facilities are largely inadequate in parts of DRC and a lot can be improved in hygiene policies and practices. The European Commission strives to meet these needs by funding operations such as the rehabilitation of the water supply network in areas from which people had fled but to which they are now returning.

Shelter and non food items: Among the runaways from conflict, many have lost their household belongings during the fighting and pillaging. The European Commission is helping them get back on their feet by funding the provision of kitchen utensils, mosquito nets and farming tools. These projects to meet simple human needs bring in immediate and tangible benefits – improving living conditions and easing the return to self-sufficiency.

Access to remote areas and displaced people: Due to logistical problems and lack of infrastructure in large areas of DRC, the transport of personnel and goods by land or air is risky, difficult and expensive. This also hinders the provision of humanitarian assistance, which is further complicated by military operations and attacks against humanitarian workers.

To circumvent these problems, the European Commission runs a humanitarian air service, called ECHO Flight, which has three airplanes in DRC and one airplane in Kenya. This service enables humanitarian workers to reach remote regions and bring relief. In 2011, 18,826 passengers were transported by ECHO Flight, along with 378 tonnes of humanitarian cargo in the DRC.

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