Atrocities committed by armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have become part of a systematic pattern to disrupt lives, instill fear and create havoc, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday, expressing alarm over the ongoing situation.
A record of more than 2,000 civilians were killed in three eastern provinces last year in attacks mainly attributed to armed groups, agency partners have reported.
The violence has continued into this year. The most recent incident occurred in late January, when two men were killed and six others were seriously injured following an incursion into a site for forcibly displaced people in Masisi Territory, North Kivu province.
Raids, curfews and ‘security’ payments
UNHCR Spokesperson Babor Baloch said that three people from the Kivuye displacement site, which is supported by the agency, were kidnapped in raids carried out by an armed group a week ahead of the attack.
The armed group has also imposed a curfew in the area and visits homes to force residents to make “security” payments.
“UNHCR and its partners have heard numerous testimonies from people who have survived this targeted violence. Between December 2020 and January 2021, at least seven incursions by armed groups into five different sites have been reported in Masisi Territory,” said Mr. Baloch, speaking from Geneva.
Displaced people under fire
In eastern DRC, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are supporting 22 sites, home to more than 88,000 displaced people. Thousands more are living in spontaneous sites, or in host communities.
“Attacks by armed groups are carried out on the suspicion of collaboration with other groups or the Congolese security forces,” Mr. Baloch said. “Some of these sites are under threat from multiple armed groups. Civilians find themselves trapped in the middle of confrontations between different groups.”
UNHCR has also received reports of armed groups forcibly occupying schools and homes, and attacking health centres, Mr. Baloch added. Some have also imposed illegal taxes on villagers who want to access their farms, thus cutting them off from their only source of food and income.
“While the Congolese army’s military operations against militia groups are more often successful than in the past, the armed forces do not have the capacity to maintain control of the areas they secure, thus leaving space for armed actors to reclaim those areas and to impose themselves on the local population,” he said.
Severe funding shortfall
UNHCR is working with local authorities and communities to protect civilians, while also closely monitoring the situation through its partners on the ground.
The violence has uprooted more than five million people in the past two years, according to UN estimates, but UNHCR’s efforts to assist them remain severely underfunded.
The agency is seeking $195 million to support its operations in the DRC, but so far has received only six per cent of the funding.
Humanitarian catastrophe in northern Mozambique ‘beyond epic proportions’
The UN and partners are “following with deep concern” new reports of violations against civilians in northern Mozambique, the UN Spokesperson said on Thursday.
Citing reports of atrocities carried out by child soldiers, alleged beheadings during attacks by non-State armed groups, and clashes in the Cabo Delgado region, Stéphane Dujarric told journalists at the regular daily briefing that although verifying information was extremely difficult, “we are concerned about the situation of civilians who fled the violence and those who remain in Palma”.
The coastal town just south of the border with Tanzania, was reportedly overrun by militant extremists on 24 March, but three days ago, Mozambique’s military reported that it had regained control.
According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), attacks in and around Palma uprooted many who had been sheltering there after having fled conflict in other parts of the province.
Prior to that, nearly 670,000 – including some 160,000 women and adolescent girls as well as 19,000 pregnant women – were internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula provinces, the vast majority of them reliant on host families, whose scarce resources are being exhausted.
On the ground
The UN spokesperson said that nearly 12,800 people, 43 per cent of whom are children, have arrived in the districts of Nangade, Mueda, Montepuez and Pemba since violence erupted.
“Many more are expected to still be on the move in search of safety and assistance”, he added.
Humanitarian partners in Mozambique are assisting displaced people at arrival points and scaling up the ongoing humanitarian response in Cabo Delgado.
“So far in 2021, more than 500,000 people in the province have received humanitarian assistance”, he said.
On top of conflict in Cabo Delgado, in the first months of 2021 and prior to the Palma attacks, the humanitarian community in Mozambique was already stretched, having responded to multiple climate emergencies.
Yet, the humanitarian appeal for the current crisis is currently just one per cent funded.
“More resources are immediately required to meet the needs of people fleeing the violence in Palma”, underscored the UN spokesperson.
“The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict in Cabo Delgado to protect civilians.”
Trapped and displaced
Earlier in the week, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the insurgent attack on Palma had forced at least 11,000 people to leave their homes and reportedly rendered thousands of others trapped as it “continues to work around the clock” to assist them.
UNHCR said that its teams in Pemba were following up on worrying reports that more than 1,000 displaced people were prevented from crossing the border into Tanzania and called on Mozambique’s neighbours to provide access to territory and asylum for people escaping violence.
This is a humanitarian catastrophe beyond epic proportions — WFP Representative
‘Saving lives’ priority
At the same time, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the deteriorating security situation has caused evacuation flights to be suspended and left UN agencies struggling to get into Palma with food assistance.
“This is a humanitarian catastrophe beyond epic proportions”, said Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Representative and Country Director for Mozambique, on Tuesday.
The UN food relief agency warned that hunger is rising in Palma, with some arrivals into Pemba saying they had not eaten for weeks.
“People fleeing Palma are completely traumatized by the violence they’ve witnessed in the past few days, and now, more than ever, they need our help”, said Ms. D’Aprile. “Our priority is saving lives and making sure emergency assistance reaches those who need it most”.
Ethiopia: Humanitarian situation remains ‘dire’
The humanitarian situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, remains “dire”, the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General said on Wednesday.
“While there has been substantial improvement in humanitarian access, active hostilities have been reported in the north-western, central, eastern, south-eastern and southern zones”, Stéphane Dujarric told correspondents at a regular press briefing.
Following months of escalating tensions between the Ethiopian Government and the dominant regional force, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive after rebels attacked a federal army base.
Within days, militias from the neighbouring Amhara region had joined the fray, reportedly followed by some troops from neighbouring Eritrea – a long-time rival of Tigray.
According to government forces, the region had been secured by the end of November, however TPLF resistance has continued amid accusations of extrajudicial killings and rights abuses on all sides.
The UN Spokesperson said that some humanitarian partners have accessed the towns of Gijet and Samre, in the southern and southeastern zones.
“They reported that most of the population in these towns has fled”, he said, adding that the Alamata-Mekelle-Adigrat-Shire road remains “partially accessible”.
Mr. Dujarric referenced the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in saying that an estimated 2.5 million people in rural Tigray have not had access to essential services over the last five months.
Moreover, the conflict continues to drive massive displacement across the region, with tens of thousands of people moving towards urban areas, including to Mekelle and Shire.
“According to a recent assessment report, there could be as many as 450,000 people displaced in Shire”, he stated.
As UN humanitarian partners scale up the response, they are grappling with capacity and resource challenges, “which remains inadequate for the estimated 4.5 million people who need life-saving assistance”, said Mr. Dujarric.
New programme to support Kenya’s coast and blue economy
Team Europe, together with the Governors of six coastal counties in Kenya, the Ministry of Devolution and the Blue Economy Secretariat, launched the Go Blue initiative in Kenya on March 25, 2021. The four-year programme aims to protect Kenya’s coastal ecosystems while creating environmentally friendly jobs in a host of industries, including recycling, tourism and small-scale fishing. It is designed to foster a “sustainable blue economy” in six coastal counties and generate more than 3,000 jobs for youth and women alone.
Go Blue has received 25 million euros in funding from the European Union. Four EU Member States – France, Germany, Italy, and Portugal – will provide technical expertise on economic growth, while two UN agencies – the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN-Habitat – will ensure that interventions are aligned with environmental conservation and urban planning goals and that the initiative helps coastal cities and communities adapt to adverse effects of climate change.
“Our marine and coastal ecosystems are extremely valuable in terms of providing ecosystem services – with many people earning their livelihoods through them,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Rather than depleting or polluting these resources, we must develop ways in which to harness and protect them.”
The push comes with maritime environments around the world, including those in Kenya, facing increasing pressure from climate change and pollution.
Kenya has an abundance of untapped maritime resources along its coast. Go Blue will focus on helping coastal communities develop those resources in a way that is sustainable and that provides economic opportunities for women and youth. The initiative will bring inclusive, integrated and sustainable approaches to economic growth, while developing new work streams, like small-scale fisheries, waste recycling, aquaculture or tourism, and technical skills in blue economy sectors, strengthening value chains and tackling regional bottlenecks.
It will also promote coastal counties’ efforts to develop integrated approaches to land-sea planning and management with a focus on restoring key coastal and marine ecosystems. Lastly, the capacity of Kenya’s Coast Guard will be strengthened to safeguard ocean assets.
“Jointly working on integrated spatial planning solutions–both on land and in water–on different levels of government and with consideration to different sectors is key to achieving a sustainable blue economy,” said Maimunah Mohd. Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat.
Go Blue will be implemented in cooperation with the Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani – Kenya’s coast regional counties Economic Development Organization – together with national ministries, such as the Blue Economy Secretariat, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Kenya Coast Guard Service, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Transport and Bandari Maritime Academy.
UN-Habitat and UNEP will support the six counties in developing three methodologies:
- an integrated, ecosystem-based land-sea planning and management framework, which will improve spatial planning
- a regional land-sea vision to prioritize blue economy-related issues
- mapping, data collection and analysis on spatial planning and ecosystems assessments
This will feed into each county’s GIS data lab, as well as a regional GIS data hub, to strengthen data collection and analysis on land use changes, urbanization and environmental change patterns, marine and coastal natural assets, and human activity (e.g. fisheries, tourism, waste). In addition, the project will support waste management, constructed wetlands, blue carbon, mangrove restoration, spatial planning and community empowerment.
The information and evidence from all activities will support replication in other Kenyan towns through the initiative’s online knowledge-sharing platform and trainings. Furthermore, four counties should have developed their own land-sea planning proposals as a result of the project, and six innovative activities will be funded by investors that directly contribute to the blue economy and land-sea planning.
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