EU Urges Congo to Attend Aid Talks as Conflict Imperils Millions

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s aid chief urged the Democratic Republic of Congo to take part in a donor meeting on tackling a humanitarian crisis in the vast central African country that’s left more than 13 million people in need of aid.

Congo’s government, which has been under pressure to hold elections that would see President Joseph Kabila leave power, has said it won’t participate in the April 13 donor conference and rejects United Nations’ estimates of the scale of the crisis. Recent conflict in Congo’s east and center has forced millions to flee their homes, caused widespread hunger and stirred echoes of the country’s 1998-2003 ruinous war.

“The figures are shocking and the situation on the ground is getting worse day by day,” European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said in an interview Monday in the capital, Kinshasa. “Our assistance cannot be effective without the cooperation of the government,” which is “not only valuable but absolutely necessary,” he said.

The EU, UN and governments of the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates are organizing next month’s conference in Geneva, where they’ll seek $1.7 billion funding for aid activities in Congo. Last year, just over a quarter that amount was secured for humanitarian response activities in the African country as disasters such as Syria and Yemen seized world attention.

Highest Emergency Level

More than 5 million Congolese have fled their homes -- about 4.5 million internally displaced and the rest in neighboring countries -- and 2.4 million more may be uprooted this year, according to the UN. In October, the organization designated parts of Congo an L3 crisis -- its highest emergency level.

Congo’s government described the L3 rating as “excessive” in a March 22 statement and said there was “discordance” between its statistics and those from humanitarian organizations. Activating the emergency “based on facts that are not real constitutes a brake on development” that discourages investors while the authorities are working to stabilize the economy, it said.

Any change in its stance on participating will depend “on the harmonization of views between the government and the humanitarian partners,” Congo’s government said.

Stylianides, speaking at the end of a three-day visit to the country, said he had “very frank and constructive discussions” on Monday with Humanitarian Affairs Minister Bernard Biando Sango and Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Agee Matembo Toto and he’s hopeful the government will rethink its position.

“I don’t want to discuss the possibility of their absence from this event,” he said.

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