published : 2023-09-06

Millions in eastern Congo in need of urgent care as humanitarian crisis, sexual violence worsen, UN says

Dozens of armed groups fighting for control of eastern Congo have wreaked havoc across the region

An image of a crowded displacement site in eastern Congo, showing the challenging living conditions faced by the millions in need of urgent care. Taken with a Nikon D850.

The humanitarian situation in conflict-wracked eastern Congo has deteriorated alarmingly in the past 18 months.

According to a senior U.N. official, 8 million people are in urgent need of assistance.

Additionally, women and girls are being subjected to sexual violence on a massive scale, particularly in three provinces.

Edem Wosornu, the U.N. humanitarian office's operations director, recently visited Congo with emergency directors from U.N. agencies and humanitarian organizations.

They described what they witnessed as shocking, heartbreaking, and sobering.

Wosornu stated that the situation in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri provinces is the worst they have ever seen.

This is particularly concerning considering that over 26 million people in the country are already hungry and in need of food.

Gender-based violence is rampant in the region, with more than 35,000 survivors seeking access to treatment and services in just the first six months of 2023.

A powerful photograph capturing a survivor of sexual violence in Congo, highlighting the devastating impact of gender-based violence. Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

However, this number is likely to be higher as only a fraction of survivors report gender-based violence.

The conflict in mineral-rich eastern Congo, home to over 130 armed groups, is driven mainly by the fight for control of land and mines.

Recent spikes in fighting can be attributed to the resurfacing of M23, a rebel group linked to neighboring Rwanda, and attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces with ties to the Islamic State extremist group.

Gabriella Waaijman, global humanitarian director at Save the Children International, accompanied Wosornu on the trip.

She highlighted Congo's high number of grave violations against children and the large population of displaced people.

Insufficient funding and the scale of suffering have made it challenging for humanitarian workers to prioritize essential needs such as water, shelter, and medical support for the constant stream of newly displaced people.

Thousands of children are unable to attend school due to the overwhelming needs.

The U.N. has appealed for $2.3 billion in humanitarian assistance for Congo but has only received one-third of that amount.

Aerial view of a conflict-ridden region in eastern Congo, demonstrating the presence of armed groups and the urgency for protection and security. Taken with a Sony Alpha A7R III.

The executive directors group emphasized the need for improved protection and security for civilians, addressing gender-based violence, and restoring peace.

While urgent funding is needed to scale up humanitarian help, the ultimate goal is sustainable peace provided by the Congolese government.

Congo's mineral wealth, including cobalt and diamonds, has fueled war, displacement, and hunger.

The impact of mining activities on the pygmy community, one of the last hunter-gatherer communities on earth, is particularly devastating.

The fight for resources in jungle areas is destroying their way of life.

Emergency directors have witnessed the struggles faced by the pygmy community in displacement sites, where they lack sufficient food and face violations of their rights without accountability.