Issue 24 - Article 7

Meeting need in post-conflict environments

October 7, 2003
Roger Persichino

The time has come for a rethink of ‘developmental relief’ after conflict.  This year, two long-standing conflicts – in Sri Lanka and Sudan – are expected to come to at least a technical end. In each, peace processes are gaining momentum, and are widely anticipated to translate into comprehensive agreements to end hostilities. When this happens, both countries are likely to attract widespread attention.  Yet the systemic breakdown that characterises both countries might not be addressed in the immediate aftermath of any formal agreement, warranting continued humanitarian assistance for a significant period after the end of the conflict. At the same time, funding priorities might shift towards developmental work, rather than relief. This article examines one particular question that countries like Sri Lanka and Sudan raise: the evolution of financial instruments made available to the aid community in the transition from complex emergencies to post-conflict environments.

Identifying complex emergencies

Inclusion in the UN’s Consolidated Appeals Process (CAPs) is one indicator of whether a country is regarded as a complex emergency. Table 1 summarises the position in Africa in 2003, as indicated by the number and location of CAPs. The CAP is a programming and fundraising mechanism through which international, regional and national relief systems mobilise and respond to major and complex emergencies requiring a system-wide response to humanitarian crises. Led by the UN, it involves UN bodies and other humanitarian organisations, international financial institutions, donors and host governments.

In Africa, about 20 countries out of 57 fell under a CAP in 2003, and could thus be considered complex emergencies. Yet a majority of these are deemed at peace, or going through various stages of a peace process.  Only three countries are actually considered as fully outside the reach of peace at present. This is significant since, as the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) noted in 2002, ‘Consolidated Appeals for countries that are in the process of transition from relief to development have been worst funded’.

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The case of the DRC

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is going through the motions of peace following an agreement between warring parties, signed in South Africa in December 2002.  This was the conclusion of a process that started in Lusaka, Tanzania, in 1999. The humanitarian situation in the DRC is by all accounts dire, with an estimated 3.3 million excess deaths caused by the war since 1996, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The position is particularly grave in the Kivus and Ituri, in the east of the country. In the Ituri capital of Bunia, repeated human rights abuse and faction-fighting – which at some points involved ten-plus national and international armed actors – have led to substantial displacement and humanitarian issues. The UN mission to the DRC, MONUC, has a limited mandate and has been unable to address the situation. MONUC has been augmented by a French-led military contingent deployed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter with a stronger mandate, thus allowing for the armed protection of civilians. It is hoped that this deployment, Operation Artemis, may help restore a sense of security in the area, and allow the aid community to deliver relief assistance in Ituri. Artemis is significant in the sense that UN military deployments under Chapter VII are relatively rare, and thus a sign of the magnitude of the needs affecting the area.

Judging by contributions to the CAP, the international community significantly stepped up its support to relief activities from 2000: baseline contributions, which stood at about $10m in 1999, leapt to an average of $67m from 2000 to 2002. In 2003, ECHO’s Global Plan for the DRC (east and west) called for over 31m euros; discussions with other emergency donors suggest that relief funds for the Kivus and Ituri will be comparable to previous years.

At the same time, assistance to relief operations in the Kinshasa-controlled areas of the country will be significantly reduced in 2003, and support to development projects and bilateral assistance will significantly increase.  It is expected that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank will develop a $1 billion loan package to support the restructuring of the DRC’s largest firm, the mining concern Gécamines. An additional $5bn might be released to redevelop the road from Matadi to Lubumbashi through Kinshasa. These amounts, while in the billions, represent only a portion of the development assistance that the international community contemplates giving or lending to the DRC.

Clearly, the total will dwarf the amount of relief assistance currently being channelled to the country; indeed, the $6bn anticipated for the Gécamines and road projects alone is already equivalent to the overall relief aid disbursed worldwide in 2000. While no one would dispute prioritising eastern DRC over other parts of the country in terms of humanitarian aid, the focus on development assistance in Kinshasa-controlled areas seems inadequate, both in view of the continued scale of need, and in terms of the financial instruments employed.

Development aims and relief needs: the situation in Lubumbashi

Lubumbashi, in the south, was primarily dependent on Gécamines, which provided employment and income to a large portion of the population. Misappropriation of funds and assets in Gécamines over several decades clearly called for a substantial restructuring, which is the focus of the World Bank/IMF Gécamines package. As a result of the conditionalities laid out in this package, approximately 20,000 people have been dismissed from Gécamines in the last year, in addition to the 100,000 who were laid off previously. The result is a decrease in overall expendable income in the city, which in turn has led to a decrease in access to food. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in 2002 one-fifth of the population was down to a single meal per day.

There is no ‘classic’ humanitarian emergency in Lubumbashi. According to Action Against Hunger (AAH), levels of severe malnutrition are low, and certainly far below emergency levels. Yet in a city of 1.5m, they are sufficient to warrant the treatment of over 800 patients per month. This is one of the largest caseloads ever recorded in one location by AAH. Support to existing infrastructure is barely enough to cope with the situation. This situation is not critical, but it is of serious concern. However, emergency donors are shying away from financial support in Lubumbashi, as the situation does not meet traditional disaster criteria and is thought to fall squarely into the realm of development assistance. Furthermore, the more straightforward emergencies in eastern DRC legitimately call for a prioritisation of limited resources. The contribution of the World Bank and the IMF to the situation in Lubumbashi is not oriented towards emergency needs; reshaping Gécamines will benefit the population, but only after a significant period of time.

Development aims and relief needs: the health sector

USAID supports the national health infrastructure in the DRC through grants to NGOs in over 60 districts, amounting to an estimated $10m a year. This is not enough to support staff salaries, and the money is tied to a cost-recovery system, whereby consultations are billed at 4,000 Francs Congolais (slightly under $10 at prevailing rates, i.e. the average monthly salary in Kinshasa). This approach is clearly geared towards developing the long-term viability of the health sector in the DRC, but it is inadequate in view of the current situation, needs and capacities of the Congolese population. For example, in an area of the southern province of Katanga, AAH noted that consultations billed at the suggested fee of FC4,000 translated into about 50 consultations a month; a reduction in the fee to FC50 increased the number of consultations to over 1,000 a month. This does not detract from the overall soundness of a cost-recovery approach, but it does suggest, at a minimum, that heavy subsidies are needed in the short to medium term.

Classic assistance to the Ministry of Health is therefore much needed, but the general decay of government structures in the DRC suggests that corruption will remain an issue for a significant period of time. Thus, there should also be adjacent funding to NGOs for health services in such locations as Lubumbashi. In Sri Lanka, a donor meeting in Tokyo is widely anticipated to pledge funds that could be released to a whole range of stakeholders, including the government, NGOs and the former armed opposition, in order to address a wide range of needs following the end of the conflict. Donor discussions held in The Hague in early April 2003, in the context of peace talks in Sudan, also sought to develop creative financial instruments adapted to post-conflict environments.


Donors have clear preferences for funding in post-conflict environments: assistance should be closely coordinated, and should bolster incipient national institutions. In addition, there is an emphasis on ‘quick-impact projects’, so that relief work can make the ‘benefits’ of peace appear tangible. Finally, there is a clear need and demand for programmes that are national in scope. While peace usually leads to increased donor support, adequate financial instruments to address post-conflict environments are only beginning to emerge. Direct bilateral assistance cannot address issues related to the delivery of services through structures that have been affected by the conflict. The degree to which these structures need to be supported before they can be expected to be functional varies from place to place: for example, the Sri Lankan authorities are immeasurably better equipped than their counterparts the DRC. Yet in both cases, post-conflict assistance remains heavily oriented towards governmental structures. This is problematic for at least two reasons: first, it may reinforce the factors that fuelled the conflict in the first place. It thus puts greater pressure on the peace process, by potentially undermining support for peace among groups that may resent this bias towards government. Second, financial options remain limited; institutional donors have few avenues other than direct support to relief, and bilateral assistance. The emphasis on assistance to the government is a direct function of the desire to consolidate the peace process, yet it does not address the ‘urge to develop’ sought in most cases.

While donors are trying to broaden the instruments available to them in the so-called ‘transition period’ immediately following a peace agreement, NGOs find themselves looking for programmatic equivalents to these emerging instruments, if only because few complex emergencies lend themselves easily to quick-impact assistance, and because of issues related to mandate and scale. Relief NGOs, whose input might be valuable in post-conflict environments, are yet to develop the programmatic tools they need. This is not to say that NGOs have been negligent: agencies in both the DRC and southern Sudan have made commendable attempts to address this programmatic gap creatively. But this knowledge remains scattered and context-specific, and so is disjointed from the larger issue of post-conflict assistance. Perhaps the time has come for a review of existing practice and thinking, both for donors and NGOs, in the delivery of assistance in post-conflict areas.

Roger Persichinois desk officer for Action Against Hunger-USA.

References and further reading

Paul Collier et al., Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy. A World Bank Policy Research Report (Washington DC: The World Bank, 2003).

Joanna Macrae, Aiding Recovery? The Crisis of Aid in Chronic Political Emergencies (London: Zed Books/ODI, 2001).

Michel Van Herp et al, ‘Mortality, Violence and Lack of Access to Health-care in the Democratic Republic of Congo’, Disasters, vol. 27, no. 2, June 2003.

UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of the United Nations, Report to the Secretary General (Draft), UN General Assembly 51st Session, New York, July 2002.

UNHCR, Bullet Point Summary of the Strategic Presentation on UNHCR’s Operations in Africa, 24th Meeting of the Standing Committee, 4–6 March 2003.


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