Responding to the DR-Congo’s Humanitarian Emergency: Challenges and Risks in the coming 6 months

by admin on June 6, 2010

 Nobody can predict the end of the humanitarian aid phase and the beginning of the development phase in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The ideal approach in responding to disaster is to be active and pro-active meaning while we are responding to immediate disaster, by giving food and non food items, we also are preventing disaster from occurring and at the same time we are working for long term sustainable development. This has been a theory and, as I said, an ideal that sometimes may work.  Unfortunately, this is not the current case of the DRC.

Every day that passes challenges this ideal to the point that the reality on the ground blurs the line between short term humanitarian response and long term sustainable development. The humanitarian phase is taking a long time to conclude and, in such situations, the immediate strain is felt on resources, mainly financial, that are needed to sustain such a never ending humanitarian aid operation. The United Nations has classified the DRC’s humanitarian crisis as a complex humanitarian emergency.  A Complex Humanitarian Emergency is characterized by what is known as the four horsemen theory of humanitarian emergencies: war, disasters (human made or natural made), famines, refugees or internally displacement.

As if the above mentioned situation wasn’t enough, most donors’ countries have not yet honored their pledges. It is likely that with the coming hurricane season the DRC’s humanitarian aid response will be forgotten as most humanitarian agencies will prefer to respond to what is achievable within their budgets and time. The scarcity of resources already felt during the Haiti earthquake response will deepen and small sized humanitarian organizations will have to make the difficult choice between staying or leaving.

While more money will be diverted from the DRC’s humanitarian aid response to the hurricane response as people will be seeing images of houses and the dying, the media will focus people’s attention on what is happening instead of what has happened. 

This raises a crucial and ethical question: What shall we do if those with more resources and experiences cannot afford to respond to the DRC’s complex humanitarian emergency?  Can an individual make a difference? If so, how?

Based on my own experience, I will say we can make a difference by working with small local groups at the community level. Working at the community level is cost effective but it has a limited impact.  However, this poses a high risk in terms of safety and security for the community for two reasons.   First of all, where there is scarcity of resources there is a high potentiality for conflict and subsequent violence. Second, the environment is an insecure one to the point that militia are everywhere preying on the community as they look for any resources to sustain their movement. 

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