Julien Schopp: We Must Not Forget the People of Congo

Photo By: Eddy Mbuyi/Oxfam
A Forgotten Catastrophe

We don’t hear much about the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) these days. Headlines have been grabbed by more geopolitically relevant conflicts such as Syria or by more immediate heart-wrenching humanitarian crises like the impending famines in Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen or South Sudan.

But while the headlines may have gone away, the crisis has not. In fact, humanitarian needs in the DRC have only grown over the past two years. More than 2.5 million civilians are still caught between government forces and a multitude of armed groups and continue to be endlessly displaced in North and South Kivu. Forced displacement also is spreading in this politically charged election year, with the central regions of Kasai now the epicenter of a new brutal conflict that has forced more than 1 million people out of their homes. The needs of these populations are immense, from protection from violence and persecution to basic shelter and food needs.

Having just returned from a little more than 10 days spent on the ground in the DRC, it is clear that renewed humanitarian efforts are needed. During my visit, I met with more than twenty NGO and UN heads of agencies, both in Kinshasa and Goma, and all agreed that more needs to be done, while also recognizing that new approaches need to be explored to better address recurring displacement with a backdrop of extreme poverty.

Complicated and virulent conflicts like that seen in the DRC can last for years after the initial, impassioned calls for international support. To return these societies to stability, however, it is critical that the international community not become desensitized to the reported horrors or too distracted by newer, "newsier" global disasters.

As one UN official on the ground noted “if we are going to abide by humanitarian principles, we need to assist those affected by conflict the same way wherever they are suffering.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, as in Syria, Iraq or South Sudan.

Let’s not forget the people of Congo.

Julien Schopp is InterAction's director for humanitarian practice. He recently returned from field consultations with NGOs working in the DRC.