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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 19, special issue: Aid localisation

Aid localisation in Ituri (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Véronique de Geoffroy

Key word: Middle Africa /

 Overview of aid in Ituri

Though the network of local NGOs is relatively developed in Ituri, according to several interlocutors it is less developed than in North and South Kivu. The majority of organisations are relatively young, having been created in the upheaval of the last fifteen years in eastern DRC. Others are older, having been created during the 1990s, in the absence of the state, to meet basic social needs such as health, education and water. Though their initial objective was to provide access to these basic services (development), they subsequently turned to humanitarian aid as the crisis deteriorated and basic needs persisted.

The personal histories of the people who have created these organisations are often bound up with the violence in the region. Some were themselves victims of the violence before becoming involved in the aid sector. Some associations do remarkable work, have developed an international reputation (Sofepadi), and manage funds for other local NGOs. Others were created in the region and grew (e.g. Association locale pour le développement intégral – ALDI) and are now present throughout RDC, while others are still only in their early stages of development.

A few interviewees spoke of NGOs that were created in order to get access to funds in a context of high unemployment where humanitarian aid represents a major economic sector. However, the story that emerged during interviews is very similar to that of international organisations when they began: a few visionary and committed people with limited means obtaining minimal initial funding, then growing step by step, with a system based on merit and where success leads to confidence and allows budgets, teams and operations to grow. In conversation, the interviewees often expressed pride in their achievements and gratitude towards those who had believed in them, before moving on to a more nuanced analysis of the current reality.

As for state representatives at the territorial level, they are responsible for coordinating the humanitarian response locally and assessing and communicating needs (population displacement or health needs) to aid organisations. They are responsible for passing on information about needs to their managers as well as monitoring the assistance and protection activities of humanitarian organisations.

At the provincial level, the state technical services participate in the Clusters. They are sometimes co-leads but do not appear to be very invested in these coordination bodies. There are also consultation units and sector-based thematic groups, which are organized by the authorities (for political governance, justice and human rights, agriculture, health and HIV/AIDS, education, etc.), and who are involved in the Clusters. There are other consultation forums in place, for example in connection with the Stabilization and Reconstruction Plan (STAREC), with the governor and the representatives of the Ministry of Planning.

In general, the administration is structurally very weak, and this weakness is the cause of numerous humanitarian situations (conflicts over land, mining regulations, insecurity, etc.). Certain areas simply do not have any state representatives, or do not have the means to get civil servants into affected areas. What is more, state representatives sometimes try to control humanitarian aid and usurp the assistance delivered to the population. Certain negative experiences from the past – where money given to the authorities by the international aid community was embezzled – are still present in the aid sector’s collective memory, which does not help to build trust.

Thus, the relations between the government, its local representatives and aid organisations are sometimes tense, or even conflictual. The authorities are both the target of advocacy and partners for the implementation of aid. This dual position is not always easy, particularly in a context where access to resources is difficult and international aid is a major economic sector, but is not fully controlled by the authorities.

Regarding United Nations agencies, OCHA is at the interface between the humanitarian community (represented by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee or IASC), the governor and the different state services, including the army. In certain contexts in DRC, other international organisations (such as the HCR) provide funds to allow the authorities to get into affected areas and fulfil their role. UNICEF has tried to include the Ministry of Health in the response to cholera but recognizes that the humanitarian response is mainly being implemented by international and local NGOs.

Local NGOs are represented in the IASC: in Ituri, as is the case in South Kivu, two local NGOs are IASC members and others are co-facilitators of certain Clusters. Despite this, local NGOs do not yet seem to be organised into a coordination network in Ituri, whereas the process has begun in the two Kivus, with consultation units for local NGOs and the creation of a network of human rights NGOs by the MONUSCO [1].

On the other hand, provincial coordination does not receive any support from the humanitarian community, though the territorial coordinator and local NGOs recognise that it is needed. They feel isolated and access to information is difficult (internet and electricity). International NGOs are supposed to make contact with the authorities and systematically inform the territorial administrators, but this does not always appear to be done, which creates tension and resentment.

As a result, even though all actors are conscious that in the long term it is the local authorities who will need to take back responsibility for relief, protection and coordination, the handover strategy remains embryonic and humanitarian coordination remains centred around international organisations.

[1] United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo.

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