#1 DR Congo: Conflict hampers people's access to aid and basic services
The crisis in DR Congo is complex and includes armed conflict and violence, epidemics, natural disasters, and the socio-economic impact of covid-19. 19.6 million people need assistance and protection in 2021, and 5.2 million people are displaced, according to OCHA. Displacement are frequent and repeated due to the difficult security situation, and mostly driven by armed clashes and intercommunal violence between armed groups. Despite the urgent humanitarian needs, the humanitarian response plan for 2021 is by May covered by only 11.5 per cent, according to OCHA.
“People need shelter, food, water, sanitation and health facilities. They need the basics,” Fendy Sanon says. “DR Congo is affected by old and new conflicts happening at the same time in different parts of the country - with the eastern part being hardest hit by violent armed groups. They attack villages and take away everything that village has. They kill, rape, burn houses and force people to flee,” Fendy says.
Fendy has worked in DR Congo since August 2019, as a Site Planner with IOM in Goma. He is concerned about how difficult it is to establish a sustainable peace process that can end the violence on the civilian population
“It’s challenging because a peace process can be set up with an armed group. When they are close to signing the deal group members opposing the agreement will split from that group, only to establish a new one that continues the fighting,” Fendy says.
The rapidly shifting security context is hampering humanitarian access, leaving people trapped, without access to the lifesaving aid they need. Fendy and his team is constantly looking for alternative ways to access the communities.
“We have been unable to visit certain areas where internally displaced people are. A team of colleagues are now travelling through the neighbouring country Uganda to access the communities from there, without going through the dangerous areas within DR Congo. Our team in Goma covers a large area, and some of the sites are up to 150 km away,” he says.
Fendy has long experience working in complex humanitarian crises and knows how important it is to meet with the people to learn about their needs.
“People must be heard. It is not possible for one community leader or group to identify the needs of everyone. People’s needs are different, and they are the only ones who know what’s best for them. We need to sit down and talk with the people we want to support to identify and tailor our work according to that,” Fendy says.
However, the lack of security is not the only challenge the people in DR Congo are facing. Covid-19 is an additional factor that has made work more complicated Fendy is concerned for the accountability to the people he is responsible for supporting.
“Late last year we committed to delivering sanitation facilities and shelters to a community in need, but the shipment of supplies has been stuck since December due to Covid-19 restrictions. How do we continue to engage with communities when we fail to deliver emergency life-saving services?”
As DRC receives less attention from the international community, donors and mainstream media, the people bear the heaviest burden.
“The crisis in DR Congo has lasted for so many years, making the country dependent on international support. When new crises happen elsewhere in the world, DR Congo is often de-prioritised. As a result, the humanitarian crises there gets less attention. DR Congo needs lasting peace agreements. It needs that the international community does not forget DR Congo. Local authorities must be strengthened to support the people’s needs. After all, it is the responsibility of the government of DR Congo to protect its people,” Fendy says.
#2 Cameroon: advocating for refugees' right to education
For several years Cameroon has been experiencing crises situations that continue to define the development processes across the country. In 2016, conflict in the English-speaking communities in Northwest and Southwest regions escalated, which had been marginalised by the dominant francophone government.
At the same time, the Boko Haram crisis in Nigeria has spilled over to the Far North region. After Nigeria, Cameroon is now the second most affected country by the violence and insecurity related to Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin.
As if that wasn’t enough, the violence in neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) has forced people to flee across the border. Cameroon now hosts the largest number of CAR refugees in the region with 290,000, and the number continues to rise daily.
Although, 4.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in 2021, the humanitarian response plan is funded by only 18.1 per cent by May 2021, according to OCHA.
“What Cameroon needs is stability. When you have crises like the ones in CAR and Nigeria, the whole region suffers. If the international community, together with the regional leaders, manage to ensure stability in these countries, it will benefit the entire region,” Jean-Marie Vianney Misabiro says.
With his expertise on education, Jean-Marie works at the UNHCR office in Bertoua, responding to the refugee situation affecting the eastern part of the country. He is concerned with how the lack of international support is affecting the refugee children’s right to education.
“Every year, funding to support the humanitarian work in Cameroon decreases. When you have less funding, some sectors are more affected than others. Education is one of them. The refugee children’s right to education receives too little attention,” he says.
To ensure a sustainable solution for both refugees and the local communities, UNHCR has not set up refugee camps or sites. Instead, the refugees are hosted within the communities to ensure that the support provided from the organisations working there also benefits the local community. However, this solution requires some diplomacy and negotiations.
“It is not only the refugee population who has needs. The resources here are not enough to cover everyone, so there has been some tension between the refugees and the host communities. We have worked a lot to ensure acceptance among both groups and focused on building structures and support that will benefit everyone,” Jean-Marie says.
“In theory, refugee children have the same right to access education as children born in Cameroon. But in practice, due to lack of capacity at the schools, local children are often prioritised. We have to advocate with the local government to have more refugee children included into the school system. Now we have a 46 per cent attending school, and our plan is to reach 52 per cent by 2022,” Jean-Marie says.
But with new refugees arriving daily and lack of funding, the goal is a bold one. In December 2020, elections in CAR resulted in an estimated 6,700 more refugees to Cameroon. Over 50 per cent of these were children, according to UNHCR. To ensure access to school for the newly arrived children, Jean-Marie wrote a proposal to the Education Cannot Wait fund (ECW) and in early May, ECW announced that they would grant USD 1 million to ensure education for the newly arrived refugee children.
“That is the most important work I do. Looking for new funding opportunity to ensure more children can enjoy their right to education. With this money, we will be able to help not only the refugees, but the entire community. Due to Covid-19, the number of children per classroom has been dramatically reduced. Therefore, this money will be used to hire more teachers and build extra classrooms,” Jean-Marie says.
However, the money from ECW is not nearly enough.
“The humanitarian work here must be financially strengthened. 54 per cent of the refugee children are still out of school, this will have long-term consequences for the entire community. More support to this humanitarian crisis will make sure that the rights of the refugees and local communities are respected,” Jean-Marie says.