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Resettlement among Top Humanitarian Issues for Central Africa in New Year

Relief agencies say over the next year they’ll be working to help stabilize Central Africa and especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has gone from years of civil war to democratic elections.

UN official Beside Tonwe says, “What’s exciting about this region is that we see change coming. Elections have been held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; [there’s a] fragile peace in Burundi. Things tend to be settling….”

But the challenges remain: more than a million people are displaced within the DRC, with more than 70 percent of the population needing food aid. Less than half of all Congolese have safe drinking water, and basic health services are largely absent.

Meanwhile, in the Central Africa Republic, armed rebellion and a bankrupt government have put a quarter of the country’s four million people at risk. CAR, which is located between Darfur, Sudan, and Chad, is also the home of more than 200 thousand Sudanese refugees.

Tonwe is the head of the Central and East Africa office for OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Nairobi.

She says next year; UN humanitarian agencies are appealing for more than 900 million dollars for Central Africa and the Great Lakes region. Of that amount, $687 million would go to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, $130 million to Burundi, and $50 million to the Central African Republic. Another $84 million would go to various projects of mutual interest to all countries in the region, including health care. “As you know,” says Tonwe, “diseases travel. They know no borders.”

Specifically, the appeals include more than $54 million for educational activities, including a program to teach vocational skills to internally displaced youth and ex-combatants in the region. Women victims of gender-based violence would be given counseling service and help in re-establishing their livelihoods. Financial support is also requested for agriculture ($1,330,000), including about $4 million for food production projects and improved food security for households affected by HIV/AIDS. Another $4.4 million is projected to help promote human rights and the rule of law.[ ]

Tonwe says last year only 70 percent of the UN’s $157 million dollar appeal for the region was met. The resulting shortage led to a scramble to make up the shortfall. “If you don’t get the funds that are required,” she says, “it’s a matter of looking within the regular budgets for some of these organizations, which means you’re taking from Peter to pay Paul -- and you do take away from somebody else. That’s why we rely heavily on donors. And that’s why [the appeals] launched in Nairobi to highlight the issues, the needs, and the differences that funding can make in people’s lives.” (