After the killing of a traditional chief in August 2016, violence between armed groups and government forces broke out in Greater Kasai. A region that had previously been relatively calm compared with the east of the country was suddenly cast into turmoil. At the peak of the crisis in Greater Kasai, 1.4 million people had fled their homes and the conflict left 3.2 million people severely food insecure. Protection concerns were high, including rampant violence, rape and child recruitment.
To support the scaling up of humanitarian response, NORCAP deployed nine experts to UN agencies in 2017, including senior protection expert Anne Davies. "The humanitarian community reacted slowly to the emerging crisis for several reasons. Humanitarians were not granted access to the area for a long time and, and for many, there were challenges in mobilising staff and funding," she says.
The UN declared a level-three emergency in Greater Kasai, Tanganyika and South Kivu in October 2017. The scale and complexity of DRC's humanitarian crisis is growing, but the funding gap for the response widens by the year.
Linking the work of the humanitarian and development sectors
ProCap expert Anne Davies was deployed to develop a protection strategy for the humanitarian country team in June 2017. In her view, Greater Kasai provides a unique opportunity for humanitarians to work alongside their counterparts in the development sector, who were present in the region before the conflict broke out.
Davies advocated strongly to include initiatives in the strategy that would bring the humanitarian, peace and development sectors closer across the country, while acknowledging humanitarian agencies' need to maintain neutrality.
"I ensured references to the need to coordinate with these sectors, and importantly, to support host communities and the displaced people who are living there," she says. "Unfortunately, there is still a big divide between the sectors." Chronic underfunding means opportunities to focus on longer-term issues have been limited, and she believes donors have a key role to play by prioritising funding for multi-sector programmes.
Her efforts to create a more collaborative environment resonates with UNICEF's senior emergency coordinator for Greater Kasai, Oscar Butragueño. "We are excited about the opportunity to strengthen resilience by integrating emergency response and early recovery in a traditional development setting, and to find durable solutions to the crises that plague the region," he says.
Schools as a protection space
Some 550 schools were damaged during the recent conflict in Greater Kasaï, and getting children back to school was an important protection measure. "Not only can the school building itself provide protection, but what children learn at school empowers them to protect themselves and their families for life," NORCAP deployee Sarah Bellotti says.
As an education in emergencies specialist with UNICEF in Greater Kasai, Bellotti helped communities access education in a safe and protected environment. "Our team established over 20 temporary learning spaces in just four days, possibly a record. I am also proud that the education and protection sectors work closely together, and already have a joint strategy and operational guidelines for all partners working across Kasai," she says.
Access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities in Greater Kasai was poor even before conflict broke out, and between October and December 2017 almost 10,000 cholera cases were reported, the first outbreak of the disease in the region in a decade. Some 220 health facilities were also attacked across the country during the year, according to UNICEF, particularly in Greater Kasai and the east of the country.
Freddie Mantchombe, an emergency water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) specialist was deployed to work with UNICEF on cholera control in Kasai province, where now two of the five affected areas have reported no further cases.
Butragueño is grateful for our deployees' contributions to UNICEF's work in Kasai. "The specialists have worked closely together to reinforce cross-sector collaboration, for example in ensuring temporary learning spaces have adequate hygiene facilities, and mainstreaming protection into the work of all education partners. Our local staff is very impressed with their work," he says.
* We refer to the Greater Kasai region as the provinces of Kasai, Kasai Central, Kasai Oriental, Lomami and Sankuru
* This article was first published in our NORCAP Annual report of 2017