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The international community must move beyond providing immediate basic services and develop a strategy to deal comprehensively with the dynamics of the current displacement crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Despite a precarious security situation, internally displaced people in North Kivu and the communities that host three-quarters of the total displaced population are trying to move forward with their lives, and they are doing so with or without the support of the international community. In addition to aid that meets basic needs, displaced and host communities require access to livelihood programs and education for their children given the protracted nature of the displacement crisis. By working with local actors and providing assistance beyond basic services, international donor governments and agencies will improve protection for civilians in North Kivu and prevent a deterioration of the humanitarian situation.
The Kivu Conference on Peace, Stability and Development in January 2008 has led to some improvements in security and access for humanitarian organizations working in North Kivu. However, at least 60,000 people have been newly displaced because of ceasefire violations by different armed groups. Targeted attacks by all armed groups against civilians, mainly women and children, include rape, killings, looting of property, and forced recruitment and labor. There is also growing concern about potential new displacements as a result of the deployments of the Congolese national army aimed at cutting the supply routes and economic base of the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda.
The United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC (MONUC) has played an important role in protecting civilians. MONUC will need the continued support of donor governments to be able to respond strategically to the security threats facing the most vulnerable.
The majority of displaced people in North Kivu will continue to remain displaced for much longer. It is time for the international community to break the routine of the current humanitarian response and offer assistance that will not only build local capacity but set the stage for durable returns and reconciliation.
Reinforce Host Communities Assisting Displaced People
Support is needed for host communities in North Kivu who currently assist almost three-quarters of the displaced population. Host families open their doors and share their food and resources with people who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of violence perpetrated by various armed groups. Persistent insecurity and human rights violations are preventing people from returning home and they are obliged to remain displaced for a longer period within the host communities. Host families, especially those headed by women, should be supported in their efforts as they are progressively becoming as vulnerable as the displaced people themselves.
After several months tensions often arise between the host family and the displaced due to the diminishment of shared resources. As a result, displaced people are often forced to move out of host communities. One alternative is to go to an established camp, but more often, the displaced end up living in public buildings or constructing huts on spontaneous sites close to heavily militarized areas, where they are more vulnerable and their protection is not guaranteed. Staying with host families, the displaced are able to maintain their dignity and are safer. In spontaneous sites women and young girls are more exposed to sexual and gender-based violence. While humanitarian actors acknowledge the erosion of the capacity of host communities to assist displaced people, there has not yet been a comprehensive strategy aimed specifically at reinforcing them.
Read Key Facts on Assistance to Host Communities.
Enhance Child Protection Through Emergency Education
Ensuring the right to education is central to the protection of children currently displaced in North Kivu. Access to free education in the DRC is difficult for all children and worse for those in conflict-affected areas of the east. As the situation in North Kivu remains insecure, displaced children are particularly vulnerable to child recruitment, forced labor and other abuses. Schools serve as a safe and protective environment during emergencies. Being enrolled in school means that children are kept from idleness and their exposure to harmful risks is reduced. Education also sets children on a path where they will be able to contribute to the rebuilding of their own community in the future.
Education is supposed to be free for all children, but school fees are often requested by teachers who are unpaid by the state. School fees are one of the main challenges for displaced children to access education since their parents often cannot afford the cost. Displaced children and young adolescents who are left idle engage in activities that put them at risk, such as drinking or stealing, and many have become street children as a result.
While there has been some response by donors and aid agencies to the lack of access to education, including the rehabilitation of schools and the distribution of school kits in host communities, this assistance has not been systematic. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in collaboration with local government and its partners, is working to strengthen local schools in host communities. They have also targeted children and young adolescents who have missed school for years through catch-up centers. However, a lack of adequate funding [the education sector in the 2007 Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) received only ten percent of the requested amount], the limited capacity and support to local actors, and the need for a more flexible and community-based approach by international organizations remain some of the main obstacles to a displaced child’s right to access education.
Read Key Facts on Funding for Emergency Education
A Strategic Response through Local Solutions
It is time for international aid agencies to begin involving Congolese communities and organizations in the humanitarian response in North Kivu. The 2008 Humanitarian Action Plan selected North Kivu as a priority in terms of assistance to displaced people and host communities. However this commitment has not yet translated into a strategic and systematic response to the displacement situation and to the needs of host communities who are assisting the majority of the internally displaced there. International organizations must partner with local organizations and include them in their planning. This will not only improve the response, it will also set the stage for future development and stabilization in the region.
Local actors have better access to remote areas where many displaced people have taken refuge and they have a better knowledge of the ways in which host communities that are assisting displaced people can be supported. Despite the valuable local knowledge that they bring, it remains difficult for local organizations to access funding and they are not included in cluster meetings or other strategic planning for the humanitarian response.
The humanitarian community is still focused on the routine of meeting basic needs, while local actors, displaced people, and host communities are calling also for a response that includes activities that will build on the resources and skills they already have. A more flexible, creative and bottom-up approach is needed in order to deal strategically with the current dynamics of the displacement crisis in North Kivu.