GENEVA - The United Nations says it hopes the Democratic Republic of Congo will attend a donors’ conference in Geneva later this week aimed at raising $1.7 billion for life-saving aid. DRC authorities say they will boycott the conference because the UN’s description of Congo’s humanitarian crisis as “catastrophic” is false and gives the country “a bad image.”
The United Nations reports more than 13 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are in need of humanitarian assistance. Seven-point-seven million are going hungry, more than two million acutely malnourished children are at risk of dying, and four-point-five million people are displaced by conflict.
Because of worsening conditions in DRC, the United Nations declared three regions in the country — the Kasai, Tanganyika and South Kivu--as a Level 3 emergency late last year. This is the world body’s highest-level emergency.
A spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, tells VOA the DRC government’s displeasure with this designation is based on a misunderstanding.
“It is not a classification of the severity of a crisis. It is a classification that is internal to the UN system, so that we mobilize, so that we are able to respond to the crisis as it is," said Laerke. "I think it is important to stress that an L3 is an internal designation to make sure that we actually meet the needs.”
In other words, Laerke says the L3 designation is intended to get humanitarian organizations to beef up their assistance activities so they are able to respond adequately to the crisis that exists.
“That includes, for example things such as ensuring that there is a deputy humanitarian coordinator in place," said Laerke. "It is to make sure that staff, and there are hundreds of additional staff — UN and NGO staff, which have been sent to the DRC so that they can implement the programs that we have now. What is important now is that we get these programs funded.”
Laerke notes the L3 emergency was declared for a six-month period and will expire on April 20th.
The OCHA spokesman says the U.N. invitation to the DRC to attend the conference, which takes place on Friday is still open. He says the UN hopes the Government will change its mind and be present at the event.
But, whatever happens, he says the pledging conference will go ahead as the lives of millions of people are at stake and depend upon the generous response and support of donor countries.