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Thousands head home voluntarily from Zambia to DR Congo

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photo: © UNHCR/Rocco Nuri

Nearly 5,000 refugees who fled violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) four years ago, are opting to head home voluntarily from Zambia over the coming months, with the first 100 people setting out on Tuesday. 

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that security had improved sufficiently in DR Congo’s Pweto territory, Haut-Katanga province, for them to go home “in safety and dignity”.

Inter-ethnic clashes as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militia groups in parts of southeastern DRC in 2017, have uprooted communities. 

Through intention surveys carried out in October by UNHCR, some 4,774 refugees expressed their aim to voluntarily return to DRC.

International agreement

The voluntary repatriation, which will continue into 2022, is part of the ongoing 2006 tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the Governments of Zambia and DR Congo.

Partners are supporting the returning refugees by providing voluntary repatriation documents, expedited immigration clearance, health screening and school certificates to allow children to resume their education in the DRC.

“As security has improved in some areas of Haut-Katanga, an estimated 20,000 refugees have spontaneously left Zambia since 2018 to return to their areas of origin – mainly to Pweto territory”, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency is working with authorities and development partners – such as Catholic aid confederation CARITAS – in DRC to advance reintegration projects, including education, health and agriculture, and to ensure conditions for safe and dignified returns.

Currently, some 18,000 Congolese refugees farm at Mantapala settlement – established in early 2018 to accommodate displaced people – alongside 5,000 Zambians, across 11 integrated villages.

As Zambia continues to host 103,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and former refugees, including more than 63,000 from DR Congo, over the past three years around 20,000 Congolese have left to return home.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme (WFP) are assisting in repatriation efforts.

Agency support

The two agencies have provided buses and trucks to help transport refugees, their belongings and food for the journey, Families will receive a cash grant to help them pick up their lives again in the DRC.

“UNHCR will disinfect the buses, provide face masks, hand sanitizers and, together with the authorities, ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures are observed, including loading of buses to half the capacity”, Mr. Baloch said.

UNICEF has improved water and sanitation facilities at the reception centre in Chiengi district, where returning refugees are being housed for the night to process immigration documents, before embarking on the final leg of their journey home.

And Zambian authorities are providing rapid COVID-19 tests for the returning refugees, at the Mantapala Rural Health Centre.

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Africa Today

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry, UNIDO sign €2m agreement

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Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) have signed a €2m agreement to support Integrated Agro-Industrial Parks (IAIPs), funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation. Thes agreement will contribute to the development of the agro-industrial sector and the creation of decent jobs and economic opportunities in the rural areas of Ethiopia. The objective of the new project is to support the inclusive and sustainable development of four pilot IAIPs. Project activities will concentrate on increasing private sector involvement in agro-industry, improving food quality, safety and traceability, and promoting social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

With the support of UNIDO, the Government of Ethiopia has prioritized the establishment of the IAIPs as a primary tool to achieve agricultural modernization and rural industrialization in the country. To this end, the Government of Ethiopia has mobilized various funding sources and development partners for the implementation of IAIPs. The current project is for the development of the four pilot IAIPs, located in Oromia (Bulbula), Sidama (Yirgalem), Amhara (Bure) and Tigray (Beaker). The project is funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation, in alignment with the Italian strategy outlined in the Ethio-Italian country framework 2017 – 2019 which encourages sustainable and inclusive economic growth to ensure full employment and decent work for all, especially in rural areas, as well as promoting partnerships between Italian and Ethiopian institutions to ensure continuity of investment and transfer of technologies.

The signature ceremony was attended by Shisema Gebreselassie, State Minister of the Ministry of Industry, Aurelia Patrizia Calabrò, UNIDO Representative and Director of the Regional Office Hub, and Isabella Lucaferri, Head of the AICS Addis Ababa Office.  

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Africa Today

Sudan: Looting in Darfur, leaves 730,000 without enough to eat

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UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran. UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The UN chief condemned on Wednesday the looting and attacks against United Nations facilities, equipment and supplies gifted to the Sudanese authorities for civilian in El Fasher, Darfur. 

Last Tuesday evening, a World Food Programme (WFPwarehouse located in the Borsa area of El Fasher town, the capital of North Darfur State, came under attack from unknown armed groups. 

Over 1,900 metric tons of food commodities that were meant to feed 730,000 vulnerable people for a month were stolen. 

The incident followed the looting and reported violence last week at the former UN-African Union Hybrid Operation (UNAMID) base in El Fasher. 

Restore order 

In his statementSecretary-General António Guterres called upon the Government of Sudan to restore order.  

He stressed that the authorities must ensure that former UNAMID property and assets are strictly used for civilians – in conformity with the Framework Agreement the Government signed in March.  

The UN chief also asked the Sudanese authorities to facilitate the safe working environment and passage for remaining UN operations in the region. 

He concluded by thanking the UN civilian and uniformed personnel who remain on the ground under “challenging” circumstances. 

WFP cuts off aid

WFP chief David Beasley tweeted his outrage over the “senseless attacks” in El Fasher and strongly condemned the continued looting and destruction of the agency’s assets.  

“As a result, we have been forced to suspend WFP operations in North Darfur, effective immediately”, said Mr. Beasly.

The theft has robbed nearly two million Sudanese of the food and nutritional support they so desperately need.  

“Not only is this a tremendous setback to WFP operations, but it endangers our staff and jeopardizes our ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families”, he added.

Humanitarian crisis 

The Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Khardiata Lo N’diaye, also condemned the looting.  

“This was food assistance meant for Sudan’s most vulnerable people. Humanitarian assistance should never be a target”, she underscored. 

Currently, one in three people in Sudan needs humanitarian assistance – equivalent to an estimated 14.3 million individuals.  

According to the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, 25 per cent of those people require food security and livelihoods support. 

An attack like this, the coordinator explained, severely impedes the ability to deliver to the people who need it the most. 

“We urgently ask all parties to adhere to humanitarian principles and allow the safe delivery of life-saving assistance”, Ms. N’diaye stated. 

WFP currently faces “unprecedented” funding shortfalls, estimated at $358 million. 

Violence 

Earlier in the month, thousands of people took to the streets to mark the third anniversary of the uprising that led to the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled for three decades.  

Demonstrators who made for the presidential palace were also protesting October’s military coup and the political agreement signed later on 21 November.  

UN officials and agencies expressed deep concern at the time over credible reports of serious human rights violations, including the use of rape and gang rape of women and girls, employed to disperse protesters.  

As of 29 December, the security situation had been restored, according to State authorities.  

Ms. N’diaye thanked the local authorities for preventing the situation from worsening but called upon the Government to step up efforts to protect and safeguard humanitarian premises and assets. 

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Africa Today

A Climate Change Solution Direct from the Congo

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A revealing account authored by former US Diplomat and World Bank Group (IFC) official Oliver Griffith provides a compelling perspective on a scalable solution for climate change. Investigating the impact of UN backed projects that work to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), Griffith makes his case for listening to the people on the front line of the climate crisis. 

The account researched by Griffith saw him visit nine of the most remote villages within the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Speaking directly with community members, community leaders, civil society, and regional and national government officials Griffith witnesses first-hand a science-based climate change solution that is working today. 

Author, Oliver Griffith said There’s little debate that tropical forests must be protected. Deforestation and forest degradation are some of the leading causes of global warming, responsible for about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions. At COP 26, over 140 world leaders promised to end deforestation by 2030, pledging over $19 billion to do so. However, it is not clear how the funds will be used or how countries will achieve the goal. Fortunately, REDD+ is a proven model that can make this happen.”

The REDD+ model described in the account works as a replicable and scalable product that can raise substantial funding from corporations which buy Verified Emission Reductions (VERs) also known as carbon credits. It depends on detailed, science-based carbon accounting under the internationally recognized Verified Carbon Standard, and the buy-in via Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local communities.

Remarking on the importance of this account was Dr. Jean-Robert Bwangoy Bankanza Bolambee, Wildlife Works DRC Country Director who said: “The DRC is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa and has exceptional natural resources. Nonetheless, it regularly finishes near the bottom in the UN’s global human development index, and two thirds of Congolese live in poverty. There is a tremendous pressure to exploit natural resources, by the poor depending on them to survive, by the government looking for tax revenues, and by international firms feeding their supply chains.”

Griffith’s thesis relies on the notion that the resources depended on by those in the Forest are found in the forests, and therefore the solutions must also be found there. They must be practical, scalable, and easy to implement, and they will only be successful if they can protect the forests while meeting the economic needs of those who might cut them down. 

Mike Korchinsky, founder of the project in the Congo visited by Griffith said, “This important account highlights that it isn’t practical to wait for the world to become enlightened enough to leave the forests alone. REDD+ puts a practical value on standing forests to give communities an economic alternative to deforestation.”

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