Caritas providing aid and breaking the silence on the crisis in DRC’s Kasai region
By Linda Bordoni
A wave of violence has transformed the Greater Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo into one of the most volatile regions in the world today.
What began in August 2016 with the killing of a local chief by the Congolese armed forces, led to the killing of over 3,000 people and the displacement of more than 1.4 million.
The current humanitarian crisis in Kasai is rated as one of the most serious in the world where it is estimated more than 10 million people will need aid in 2018.
Caritas, the Church’s aid organization, has launched an emergency appeal for the war-affected population where time is running out for millions. That’s why it has called the appeal is called “It’s time to break the silence.”
Caritas International Belgium has been present in the DRC since 1960 and is working in partnership with local dioceses.
Caritas’ Willem Vervaeke told Linda Bordoni about the organization’s three-pronged approach to the crisis and about the current situation in Kasai.
Vervaeke explained that thanks to the work and coordination between Caritas International and Caritas DRC, aid is reaching the most vulnerable through the distribution of food, essential household supplies and hygiene kits. “We launched this appeal at the end of last year due to the urgent humanitarian situation” he said.
Caritas’ threefold response
Vervaeke said Caritas has a three-level response, the first of which tries to respond to the basic needs of food and other basic necessities.
He explained the second response is what is known as the ‘Humanitarian Watch System’ in which all partners collect and transmit information about the humanitarian situation in specific local communities and this information is then used to orient the humanitarian response in the area.
“So each actor knows exactly where to go and what the specific needs are” he said. The third aspect, he continued, is called RRMP – Rapid Response to the Movement of the Population: a mechanism coordinated by the UN which aims to maximize the efficiency of the response to particular needs.
Situation of the people
As regards the current situation of the people Vervaeke said “At the moment it remains very volatile. Towards the end of 2017 we had the feeling it had stabilized a little and numbers of displaced people were beginning to return to the region” but, he said, “since January we are seeing pockets of violence erupting again, for different reasons”, sometimes along ethnic lines, sometimes it’s between the armed forces and local Kamwina Nsapu militias. “
Tension is erupting again, and humanitarian needs are increasing” he said.
He says this is reflected also in the unprecedented UN appeal for 1.6 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance for 2018, much of which is linked to the situation in the Kasai region.
Vervaeke said formerly displaced people who are back in the region and are in host communities are completely destitute: “they have missed three agricultural seasons and have no food and no means to pick up their lives again: the situation is very dire”.
He said the situation is largely neglected also because the news that is filtering through the mainstream media is mostly linked to the to the political situation in the country, to the democratic process and elections.
Funds received so far do not cover urgent needs
“We have to remember the humanitarian situation is crucial and at the moment the money received by the international community does not cover the needs that are present in the county”.
“We have only received between 1 and 10% of what is need on the ground. So we really urge the international community to come to help the Congolese people” he said.
Vervaeke also invited individuals to click onto the Caritas website and go to the “It’s time to break the silence campaign” which explains the background to the crisis and encourages people to act also at a personal level.
He concluded noting that Pope Francis’ recent call for a Day of Prayer for Peace in DRC also had a huge impact in raising awareness and providing impetus to the humanitarian work being carried out in the region.