GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19 October 2010 – UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault has just concluded a six-day trip to DR Congo that highlighted the challenges facing children and families here.
|VIDEO: 16 October 2010 - UNICEF correspondent Priyanka Pruthi reports on a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo by UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault. Watch in RealPlayer|
During a review of UNICEF’s programmes on the ground, Mr. Arsenault emphasized the importance of positioning humanitarian assistance in the bigger picture. “The planning of sustainable relief starts before a disaster strikes,” he said. “It must be integrated in the development strategy of a country like DRC, which is subjected to a chronic cycle of emergencies.”
Mr. Arsenault’s visits to projects in Goma, the country’s conflict-ridden eastern region, confirmed the importance of preparedness. In response to a recent outbreak of about 20 cholera cases in Goma, for example, UNICEF has set up 26 water-chlorine points along Lake Kivu, ensuring safe-water access for 1,000 people per day at a cost of just $2,000 per month – a small price compared to the massive costs of addressing a large-scale cholera epidemic.
While the past decade has been turbulent for DR Congo, some indicators show an improvement in the situation of children and women in the country. Yet overall progress is insufficient, and major inequities in vaccination coverage, nutrition and other indicators exist between well situated households and those that are the most deprived.
This situation is further compounded by continued conflict and displacement. Another major issue is gender inequality.
|© UNICEF DR Congo/2010/Walther|
|A young mother on the way to the voucher market in Bukombo, DR Congo.|
“Congolese women hold a key role in terms of food, water and health for their families, yet their social status is characterized by submission,” noted Mr. Arsenault. “Conflict is one factor for the perpetration of sexual violence. The other one is the cultural context. To build a society open for progress, boys and girls must become acquainted from a young age with the principle of mutual respect.”
Relief and development
Increasingly, UNICEF views emergency relief and development in countries such as DR Congo as a continuum – allowing the organization to respond flexibly to changing circumstances.
“While respecting cross-cutting themes such as gender, early recovery and protection, the overall aim is to ensure a holistic answer to a complex situation;” said UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi. “Especially in high-risk, difficult-to-access areas, UNICEF is promoting community-based projects.”
For instance, Ms. Vu Thi noted, ‘voucher markets’ where families use cash transfers to purchase basic necessities can help even out inequities among conflict-affected, displaced or returning families and local populations.
|© UNICEF DR Congo/2010/Walther|
|At a water-treatment station, a volunteer disinfects water that a woman has fetched from Lake Kivu, DR Congo.|
“It’s hard to hear the story of families who are full of energy and motivation to bring about change, but were forced into a life as recipients of assistance due to the situation in their country,” Mr. Arsenault added after visiting a voucher market in Bukombo. “To give families the opportunity to make choices is the first step to rebuilding their future.”
Impact on children
Besides hampering the country’s overall development, the ongoing conflict in DR Congo has a direct impact on children. Displacement, forced recruitment into armed groups and sexual violence are among the worst consequences for them.
Since 2004, 36,000 child soldiers have been released, and UNICEF and its partners have accompanied them on the long road back to a normal life – providing psychosocial support, medical assistance and other support. But forced recruitment of children into armed groups continues.
Meanwhile, over 1.9 million people remain displaced in DR Congo. And ongoing conflicts with foreign armed groups present serious obstacles to security, disrupting the current dynamics of peace-building.
“We are concerned about the positioning of UNICEF in an increasingly complex environment,” said Mr. Arsenault. “Humanitarian support is needed at the bottom. Development of the country will come from the Congolese citizen. Our joint responsibility is to make the right to survival and development a reality for every Congolese child. Doing nothing today will be costly tomorrow, in terms of lives and resources.”