Global indifference putting a generation of children at risk
KINSHASA/DAKAR/GENEVA/NEW YORK, 19 February 2021: The lives and futures of more than 3 million displaced children are at risk in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while the world is looking the other way, a report released by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said today.
In the east of the country, a succession of brutal attacks by fighters using machetes and heavy weapons have forced whole communities to flee with only the barest of possessions. Entire families — including children – have been hacked to death. Health centres and schools have been ransacked, and whole villages set ablaze.
The UNICEF report* calls for an end to the conflict which has fuelled one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. UN figures show that there are currently 5.2 million displaced people in the DRC, more than in any country except Syria. Fifty per cent have been displaced in the last twelve months.
Displaced families live in crowded settlements that lack safe water, health care and other basic services. Others are accommodated by impoverished local communities. In the most violence-afflicted provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika, more than 8 million people are acutely food insecure.
“Displaced children know nothing but fear, poverty, and violence. Generation after generation can think only of survival,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative for the DRC. “Yet the world seems increasingly indifferent to their fate. We need the resources to continue helping these children have a better future.”
The report recounts the testimony of children who have been recruited as militia fighters, subjected to sexual assault, and suffered other grave violations of their rights. Such violations registered a 16 per cent increase in the first six months of 2020 compared to the previous year.
Delivering relief assistance to populations who have been displaced is complex, and often hampered by insecurity and a weak transport infrastructure.
A rapid response programme directed by UNICEF with national partner NGOs offers a temporary solution, providing tarpaulins, cooking utensils, jerrycans and other essentials to nearly 500,000 people in 2020.
“These emergency distributions help deal with the immediate shock of being displaced, but they are also part of an integrated response that looks to address a family’s broader needs in health, nutrition, protection, WASH or education,” said Typhaine Gendron, UNICEF Chief of Emergency in DRC.
Security is a major concern for workers from UNICEF and their local and international partners.
UNICEF says that while the situation remains highly volatile, the Congolese army is trying to curb the power of the militia groups and re-assert the authority of the state. It says that building on these tenuous signs of progress must be the priority, and the international community has a crucial part to play.
However, solidarity with the DRC has shown signs of fraying. UNICEF’s 2021 humanitarian appeal for $384.4 mn is currently only 11 per cent funded.
“Without sustained humanitarian intervention, thousands of children will die from malnutrition or disease, and displaced populations will not receive the basic lifesaving services they depend on,” said Beigbeder.
Notes for editors: *Fear and Flight: An Uprooted Generation of Children at Risk in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Multimedia materials are available for download here.
WHO epidemiologists are on the ground investigating the case.
BRAZZAVILLE, Congo (Republic of the), February 8, 2021 – The Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today announced that a new case of Ebola has been detected in Butembo, a city in North Kivu Province, where a previous outbreak was declared over in June 2020.
The Butembo branch of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB) confirmed Ebola in samples taken from a patient with Ebola-like symptoms who had sought treatment at a local health centre. The woman was the wife of an Ebola survivor. She has since died.
Butembo was one of the epicentres of the previous Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC. It is not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following a major outbreak.
Due to the enormous local capacity built in the previous outbreak, the North Kivu Provincial health authorities are leading the current response with support from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO provided training to laboratory technicians, contact tracers, local vaccination teams and reached out to community groups to raise Ebola awareness as well as put in place an Ebola survivor programme.
“The expertise and capacity of local health teams has been critical in detecting this new Ebola case and paving the way for a timely response,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “WHO is providing support to local and national health authorities to quickly trace, identify and treat the contacts to curtail the further spread of the virus.”
WHO epidemiologists are on the ground investigating the case. Already more than 70 contacts have been identified. Disinfection of sites visited by patient is also ongoing.
Samples from the confirmed Ebola patient have been sent to the National Institute of Biomedical Research’s main laboratory in Kinshasa for genome sequencing to identify the strain of the Ebola and to determine its link to the previous outbreak.
The DRC’s 10th Ebola outbreak which lasted for nearly two years was the second largest in the world and by the time it ended there were 3481 cases, 2299 deaths and 1162 survivors.
Response to the outbreak was particularly challenging due to insecurity that disrupted emergency efforts.