A humanitarian disaster in eastern Congo is worsening and aid agencies are pulling back due to growing insecurity and slashed budgets, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said.
More than 4.4 million people have been displaced in Democratic Republic of Congo amid rampant violence aggravated by a political crisis sparked by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in 2016.
Conflict in central Kasai region eased last year, persistent clashes between government soldiers, local militias and foreign rebels in the eastern borderlands have worsened.
“We are overwhelmed and underfunded,” NRC head Jan Egeland told Reuters in an interview in Beni in North Kivu province.
“The crisis in Congo, especially in the eastern part of Congo, is phenomenal. It is horrible. And we do not have the global solidarity and response we need,” he said.
The area around Beni has witnessed some of the worst violence in recent years.
More than 800 people were killed — often hacked to death with machetes during the night — around the town between 2014 and 2016.
Congolese authorities say the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan Islamist rebel group, were behind the killings, but Congolese army officers are also accused of involvement.
More than 532,000 people fled in two territories along the border with Uganda in 2016 and 2017.
CIVILIANS “IN CROSSFIRE”
Last week the United Nations warned a military offensive launched in January by Congolese troops to root out the ADF is likely to displace nearly 370,000 more people.
“Just outside town, just here in Beni, there were several massacres in recent days,” said Egeland, who served as the United Nations’ top humanitarian official in 2003-2006.
“These clashes go on endlessly. The civilian population is caught in the crossfire.”
Much of eastern Congo has remained a volatile patchwork of rebel and militia fiefdoms despite the end of a civil war in 2003 that killed millions, most from hunger and disease.
Now, despite the presence of the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force, many fear the political crisis sparked by delayed elections is pushing it back to the brink of war.
“Of course the United Nations operation has to be more effective in providing protection because over these last 15 years it’s not really gotten better. The last two years it has actually gotten much, much worse,” he said.