WASHINGTON, July 1, 2020- As a sign of its strong commitment to Africa, the World Bank's Sub-Saharan Africa Regional portfolio will now be managed by two Vice Presidents, covering Western and Central and Eastern and Southern Africa, respectively. The institution announced the change in early 2020, which took effect today. This year the World Bank is expected to lend about $50 billion to 48 countries in Sub- Saharan Africa - significantly more than any other Region and making up about one-third of the World Bank's entire portfo- lio. These financing volumes are almost double what the region delivered ten years ago. The Bank's portfolio includes projects and programs in areas such as agriculture, trade and transport, energy, education, health, water and sanitation.Furthermore, the growth in financing to fragile states has been even higher with about two-thirds of World Bank financing to fragile states happening in Africa. The region has been led since 2018 by Hafez Ghanem, who today takes on the role of Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa. "Our commitment to Africa gets stronger every day, and I am thrilled to work alongside Ous- mane Diagana to deliver even more resources to the people who need them the most," said Hafez Ghanem, World Bank Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa. "We are two VicePresidents, but we see Africa as one, and will continue sharing lessons, expertise, and ideas across the continent." The creation of an additional Vice Presidency Unit is part of the World Bank Group's continuous efforts to align resources with priorities. This will help drive the reforms and policies needed to achieve sustained and broad-based growth, alleviate poverty and raise living standards for peo- ple on the continent. Ousmane Diagana becomes Vice President for Western and Central Africa today. "I am honored to lead the Bank's efforts in West and Cen- tral Africa, with a strong focus on innovation, impact, and transformation," said Ousmane Diagana, Vice President for Western and Central Africa. "Working together with Hafez, I know we can and will do more to put countries and people first and find ways to confront today's development challenges using all of the tools at our disposal." Diagana's appointment comes as the Bank is looking to strengthen the delivery of its Africa program and further improve its operational focus on regional portfolios to better support the transformational improvements that are possible in Africa. About Ousmane Diagana ? A Mauritanian national with more than 25 years of development experience, Diagana joined the Bank in 1992.As the Vice President of Western and Central Africa, Diagana will lead the World Bank's strategic, analytical, operational and knowledge work in Western and Central Africa. Since joining the Bank, Diagana has held several technical and managerial positions including Country Director for Mali, Niger, Chad, Guinea and Country Director for Cote d'Ivoire, Bur- kina Faso, Guinea, Benin and Togo. Diagana has worked extensively in Fragile, Conflict and Violence (FCV) affected countries. Prior to this appointment, Diagana was the World Bank Group Vice President for Human Resources. He also served as Vice President for Ethics and Business Conduct and World Bank Group Chief Ethics Officer. As World Bank Group Vice President for Human Resources, he has been central to many initiatives to bring staff closer to clients, particularly in FCV client countries. About Hafez Ghanem Hafez Ghanem, an Egyptian and French national, is the Regional Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa. A development expert with over 30 years of experience, Dr. Ghanem leads relations with 26 countries, and oversees over 280 projects totaling more than $49 billion. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Ghanem served as the Vice President for Africa. Under his leadership, the World Bank supported inclusive growth and poverty reduction by financing projects that boost human capital, support private sector development, raise agricultural productivity, improve access to infrastruc- ture, build resilience to climate change, and promote regional integration. Intensifying assistance for fra- gile and conflict-affected states, promoting gender equality, and providing economic opportunities for youth were core to his vision for the Africa Region. Contacts: In Washington: Aby Toure, email@example.com For more information about the World Bank's work in Africa visit: www.worldbank.org/africa Friend us on Facebook: http:/ /www.facebook.com/ worldbankafrica Follow us on Twitter: https:// twitter.com/WorldBankAfrica Watch our videos on YouTube: http://www.worldbank.org/ africa/youtube Listen to our Podcasts on Soundcloud: https:// soundcloud.com/worldbank/ sets/world-bank-africa
Depuis 1960, le Japon entretien des relations amicales et de coo- pération avec la République Dé- mocratique du Congo. Et cette amitié s'est toujours ressentie à chaque crise à laquelle la Répu- blique Démocratique du Congo a dû faire face. Ainsi, quand la partie Est de la République Démocratique du Congo a dû faire face à la Mala- die à Virus Ebola (MVE), le Japon a été l'un des acteurs de premier plan non seulement à travers difsurveillance épidémiologique sur toute l'étendue de la République Démocratique du Congo et en Afrique Centrale. C'est ainsi qu'en mai 2017, le Gouvernement du Japon a signé un Echange des Notes avec le Gouvernement de la République Démocratique du Congo dans le cadre du projet de réhabilitation de l'INRB pour un montant de 21 mil- lions de dollars américains. Ce projet a permis de doter l'I NRB en infrastructure de haute qualité à travers trois services à savoir : un centre de diagnostic, un cen- tre de formation et un centre d'es- sais cliniques, et d'acquérir des laboratoires de niveau P2 et P3 ainsi que des matériels de pointe pour gérer les épidémies. Inauguré en février 2020 par le Premier Ministre, Son Excellence Monsieur Sylvestre ILUNGA ILUNKAMBA, la réhabilitation de l'INRB est tombée à point nommé car un mois après son inaugura- tion, soit le 10 mars 2020, la Ré- publique Démocratique du Congo a malheureusement connu son tout premier cas de la pandémie de la Maladie à Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), à ce jour, l'on férentes aides d'urgence fournies mais aussi avec l'envoi des ex- perts afin d'apporter une assis- tance dans le renforcement des capacités du système de sur- veillance et de confirmation des diagnostics aux laboratoires. L'Institut National de Recherche Biomédical (INRB), le plus grand laboratoire en République Démo- cratique du Congo, a toujours été considéré par le Japon comme acteur majeur de la lutte contre les maladies infectieuses dont les capacités devraient être renfor- cées afin de permettre une bonne compte 7.189 cas avec 176 dé- cès soit un taux de létalité de 2,4% et 2.317 personnes guéries (Bul- letin CMR COVID-19 du 1er juillet 2020). Le travail de l'INRB s'est vu gran- dement facilité,avec les nouveaux laboratoires construits par une entreprise japonaise, dans la ri- poste contre la COVID-19 qui est considérée à ce jour comme une grande " crise de la sécurité hu- maine ". Aussi dans cette lutte, l'action de l'INRB est bien visible et ses efforts sont hautement sa- lués et reconnus par toute la po- pulation congolaise en générale et kinoise en particulier. Ainsi, dans sa coopération agis- sante et active, le Japon accom- pagne la République Démocrati- que du Congo à faire face à la COVID-19 en lui dotant des atouts essentiels dans le diagnostic et la recherche ainsi que dans le trai- tement et le suivi des cas. Tel qu'il a été durant la riposte con- tre la 10ème épidémie de la MVE, le Japon reste un acteur majeur pour accompagner la République Démocratique du Congo à faire face à la COVID-19 et à toute autre crise sanitaire qui pourrait sévir.
Rhed* and her partner Salyn* were denied COVID-19 food aid from their city in the Philippines because lesbian couples don't count as a "family" in the eyes of the local government. Luckily, their housemates and extended family shared their food with them. They are just two of the countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ+) people around the world currently excluded from pandemic relief efforts because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. "I felt belittled, and I was thinking: what would happen to us if we were living on our own and renting a place and are excluded?" Rhed recalled. "How would we be able to sustain ourselves knowing that we are also affected by the crisis? "Every time I remember that experience, I get so irritated," Rhed told The New Humanitarian by phone through a translator. "What they did was so inhumane." As governments have enacted stay- at-home policies to contain the coronavirus, many citizens have been left without income and reliant on aid. In the global conversation of the most vulnerable, analyses have underscored the need for gender- consciousness in understanding the burden of this disease. Much focus has been on gender-based vio- lence: how this pandemic might im- pact women and girls, as well as worsen situations of domestic vio- lence. Rights groups, however, have pointed out that the LGBTQ+ community - and its particular vulnerabilities - have been excluded from many of these discussions. On 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, 96 UN and human rights experts issued a joint statement calling for the internatio- nal community "to urgently take into account the impact of COVID-19 on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse persons when designing, implementing, and evaluating the measures to combat the pandemic". Following this statement, a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Council from 187 human rights groups called for the protection of the rights of LGBTQ+ people during the pandemic. As these statements note, a lack of LGBTQ+ focus risks further compounding the inequality and dis- crimination faced by this marginalised population - research has shown that LGBTQ+ communities often fare worse during emergencies because of these omissions. A global problem Rhed's experience in the Philippi- nes is just one of many that shows how relief efforts can still produce exclusionary results even if they don't explicitly exclude sexual and gender minorities. This was also evident in short-lived "gender quarantines" in Latin America at the start of the pandemic. To limit public crowding, the Colombian, Panamanian, and Peruvian governments implemented mobility restrictions that only allowed people of a certain gender to leave the house on a given day. While seemingly innocuous, these restric- tions put many trans people into a dangerous double-bind. In Sri Lanka, in order to access lo- cal government food aid, people must be registered as a resident of their municipality. The process involves sharing a permanent address with the police, which unnerves many sexual and gender non-conforming people, according to Ephraim Shadrach, a queer gender-fluid person. "The police have been brutal to people who don't conform to gender norms," Shadrach explained to TNH over the phone, adding that many in the Sri Lankan LGBTQ+ community prefer to refuse the aid rather than participate in a process that might expose them to violence. In Brazil, meanwhile, some trans people say they are being left out of government aid response. "The government is giving emergency funds to people who are informal workers [because of the] COVID-19 crisis, but trans people are having difficulty accessing this aid because the people who have changed their name legally do not get approval as their new legal names aren't in the system," Lua Stabile, a transwoman, told TNH by phone. "No one really knows how to change the names because it has already been legally changed, but the old names just keep appearing in the system." In Zimbabwe, water scarcity as a result of a drought that occurred during the pandemic has led to lo- cal city council officials being in charge of local water distribution. According to Keisha*, a bisexual androgynous woman, getting access to this water requires working through personal connections in a resource-scare environment. "My family and I have to go to the next neighbourhood over because there is water, as well as one of the only friendly people who will not discriminate against me for my sexual orientation," she explained. Learning to include COVID-19 responses that fail to consider and address anti-LGBTQ+ biases risk neglecting these vulnerable communities. On a video call with TNH, the UN's independent expert on sexual orien- tation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, called for the aid community to ensure that "the implementation of humanitarian measures does not perpetuate inequality and has the ultimate ob- jective of building back better" after the pandemic. Madrigal-Borloz recently put forward a framework, called the ASPIRE guidelines, laying out how to advance an inclusive COVID-19 response effort. But this is a big leap when LGBTQ+ communities are already structurally excluded from so much of society, as Naya Rajab, a transwoman Syrian refugee in Lebanon, explained to TNH over the phone through a translator. "On normal days, trans people can't access proper healthcare," she said. "During the pandemic it's even worse, I don't know what I would do if I got infected with COVID-19. I'm scared." Access to medical assistance can be a huge barrier to LGBTQ+ people who fear discrimination within the healthcare system - particularly if the gender marked on their identity documents doesn't match their gender identity, or if their HIV status is disclosed. Alejandra, a transwoman suffering from respiratory issues presumed to be COVID-19, died last month in Colombia after paramedics reportedly discovered her HIV status and refused to treat her. "On normal days, trans people can't access proper healthcare. During the pandemic it's even worse, I don't know what I would do if I got infected with COVID-19. I'm scared." Broader societal discrimination also bars many LGBTQ+ people from pursuing education and job opportunities. As a result, many work day to day in the informal economy, which was effectively shut down when shelter-in-place measures were implemented in many countries due to the pandemic. Unable to make any money and often without savings, many LGBTQ+ peo- ple are struggling to meet their basic needs. "The speed with which many LGBTIQ communities moved into food insecurity was really shocking," Amie Bishop, the author of a report on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ people, told TNH. In the wake of the pandemic, Bishop's group, OutRight Action In- ternational, launched an emergency relief fund for LGBTQ+ people - 56 percent of the nearly 1,500 applica- tions were for food support. Different vulnerabilities While the pandemic has affected the LGBTQ+ community, the impact is not equal across the board. Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch told TNH he advises against thinking about the community as "a monolithic entity", but rather urges everyone "to look at the kind of specific vulnerabilities faced by specific people". Reports show that LGBTQI+ women, youth, and the elderly are most economically vulnerable of the community. In addition to these structural inequalities, the local political climate for many LGBTQ+ people around the world has also worsened. "Already facing bias, attacks, and murder simply for who they are or whom they love, many LGBTI peo- ple are experiencing heightened stigma as a result of the virus, as well as new obstacles when seeking healthcare," UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged in a recent statement. In South Korea, Ukraine, Israel, and elsewhere, local community leaders are blaming LGBTQ+ people for the spread of the pandemic. This scapegoating leaves people susceptible to vio- lence and other forms of discri- mination. In Uganda, a shelter for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness was raided for breaking social distancing rules. And, in the Philippines, three gay men accused of violating curfew were publicly humiliated as a form of punishment. Human Rights Watch accused both governments of using the pandemic as an excuse for persecutory behaviour. The pandemic has also put more LGBTQ+ people at risk of vio- lence in their domestic life. As a result of losing income and the closing of publ ic spaces, many people have been forced to return to their family homes, where some hide their identities or risk being kicked out. Others do not, or cannot, hide their identities, and face discrimination because of it. Many gendered forms of violence are present in these family and community dynamics, where LGBTQ+ people often report being threatened with - or experiencing - physical or sexual violence to "correct" them. "The mental suffering of living in such a hostile environment compounds the stress experienced during a pandemic," Keisha said. For rights groups, who say humanitarian actors need to recognise the delicate situation of this community and better tailor their programmes to reach unmet needs, there are two clear ways forward. First, aid organisations and governments should incorporate people from the LGBTQ+ community into their planning, as wel l as into their monitoring and evaluation programmes. This in- clusion will ensure implicit biases don't perpetuate inequality. CARE and the International Rescue Committee did so in their pandemic response gender analysis, but their inclusionary actions are the exception - not the norm. Second, organisations and donors should be clear in making non-dis- crimination one of their leading principles, as well as an expectation they share with contractors and grantees. Whi le conditioning aid can be detrimental, making clear expectations of non-discrimination can, rights groups say, hold orga- nisations to account. With reporting support from Ging Cristobal in the Philippines, Nazeeha Saeed in Germany, and Yvonne Wamari in Kenya.
'The risk is still very high. We remain on watch.' GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo The Democratic Republic of Congo's deadliest ever Ebola outbreak was officially declared over on Thursday, but aid groups have warned that flare-ups are still possible, and that a new outbreak in the northwest is testing the capacity of responders. The announcement, from Congo's health minister, comes 42 days after the last patient was discharged from a treatment cen- tre in the conflict-affected eastern outbreak zone of Beni, meaning the three-week incubation period during which transmission between people normally occurs has long since passed. Attention now switches to the northwestern outbreak in largely peaceful Équateur province, where 24 cases have been reported and 13 people have died since it was announced on 1 June. Responders told The New Humanitarian there is a shortage of vaccines, drug therapies, and dedicated facilitates for handling Ebola patients, despite an earlier outbreak of the disease in the pro- vince infecting 54 people - 33 of whom died - in 2018. Read more ? Ebola: Fear, suspi- cion, and anger along Congo's ri- ver of worry Response workers also cautioned that surveillance of possible cases will need to be maintained in the east, in case any of that outbreak's more than 1,000 survivors pass on the virus again, either by relapsing or by infecting others through their body fluids. Officials had hoped to call time on the eastern outbreak - which has cost more than 2,200 lives over a nearly two-year period - in early April, but a new cluster of cases emerged just days before the announcement was due. One of those infected ran away from a treatment centre in April and has still not been found. "The risk is still very high," said Dr. Rigo Fraterne Muhayangabo, country director for International Medical Corps in Congo. "We remain on watch." Fresh challenge The eastern outbreak - Congo's tenth and the world's second worst on record - was concentrated in a conflict-torn part of the country, and was marred by distrust between local communities and responders that led to hundreds of attacks on treatment centres, medical staff, and patients. A months-long investigation by TNH showed how questionable practices in the response effort - including payments to security forces, renting vehicles at inflated prices, and job kickback schemes - may have jeopardised humanitarian operations and put lives at risk. Read more ? How 'Ebola busi- ness' threatens aid operations in Congo The first deaths in Équateur are believed to have occurred between 18-30 May. Several cases have been reported in Mbandaka, the main city in the province and a trading hub of roughly 1.2 million people that has river connections to the densely populated capital, Kins- hasa, and neighbouring countries. Unlike in Beni, there is no armed conflict in Équateur, and the 2018 outbreak was brought under control in less than three months. Health workers and local residents are also better trained to detect and test cases, and to raise community awareness. A new vaccine - first rolled out in Équateur in 2018 and then deployed in the east - has already been used to inoculate frontline health workers in recent weeks as well as 5,000 contacts of infected people, and the contacts of those contacts. Equipment - including sanitation supplies, personal protective gear, and laboratory machines - has been transported to the pro- vince from the east, as have health responders. But officials said the response to the new outbreak - led by the Ministry of Health - still poses challenges, especially as the confirmed cases have been distributed across an area spanning hundreds of kilometres and with poor road conditions. Transporting samples for testing from Bolomba health zone - where cases have been reported - has proved particularly challenging as the town is hundreds of kilometres from Mbandaka and the nearest laboratory. Read more ? Briefing: As Congo's Ebola epidemic draws to a close, coronavirus concerns and re- lapse risks Ebola treatment centres were not operational at the outset of the outbreak, Muhayangabo told TNH, because the ones erected in 2018 were dismantled. Patients have also died without access to drug therapies because protocols guiding their use have not been initiated and cold chains - to keep the vaccine at low temperature over long distances - are still being set up. Efforts to vaccinate the population have, meanwhile, been hindered because of a limited stockpile following the end of vaccination campaigns in the east, and chal- lenges shipping the existing supply west due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Muhayangabo added. Community resistance The UN said aid organisations are "intensifying" community outreach efforts, but they have faced resistance from some local residents, particularly in Mbandaka, where police officers opened fire on demonstrators protesting against response efforts last week. Several local government officials and nine community members who spoke to TNH all said parts of the population believe the government has fabricated the outbreak to pro- fit from response funds - echoing a view held by many in the east. "The only common thing [between the two outbreaks] that we have seen is the resistance of the population," Abdou Dieng, the UN's emergency Ebola response coordinator in Congo, told TNH. "Partner presence has drastically reduced and now health authorities are left on their own." In eastern Congo, surveillance efforts are set to continue in the coming months, but treatment centres are expected to close, while budgetary constraints, COVID-19 restrictions, and the new outbreak in Équateur mean only a skeleton force of responders are left in the region. "Partner presence has drastically reduced and now health authorities are left on their own," said Muhayangabo. "I am very concerned with the disengagement [should] people need to respond to another outbreak." As response efforts ramp up in Équateur, Alex Wade, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières in Congo, said mistakes made over the past two years in the east should not be repeated. "[Responders] need to work on reinforcing the existing system, as opposed to creating a parallel, vertical system which packs up… and doesn't leave anything behind," Wade said. The UN's Dieng added: "One of the lessons that we have learned is that we really need to work on community resistance. We shouldn't wait until there is a disease or a crisis to talk to the population."
Ambassador Axworthy Held Intimate Tea Party, With Remarks from Vatican Foreign Minister, in Lieu of Annual Gathering To celebrate Queen Elizabeth's 94th birthday this year, British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, hosted a virtual afternoon tea to honor the Church's contribution to tackling Covid-19 worldwide. The June 16 tea was held in lieu of an annual private gathering in Rome, to celebrate and toast Her Majesty's birthday. ZENIT's Senior Vatican Corres- pondent, Deborah Lubov, was ready with her Zoom login and chamomile. Those joining the tea party were primarily foreign ambassadors to the Holy See, Vatican officials, diplomats, religious superiors, and a couple of journalists. The British Ambassador welcomed the invitees joining virtually. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, was a guest of honor and spoke of the Queen's dedication to service and working toward the common good. The Vatican Foreign Minister and British Ambassador highlighted various ways the Church and Bri- tish Commonwealth have and do work together. Pope Francis cordially welcomed Queen Eliza- beth to the Vatican in 2014, and Her Majesty has met five Popes in history. Through his response and extraordinary Urbi et Orbi that rainy Friday night, "Pope Francis gave us hope in the dark days when the virus first struck," Ambassador Axworthy said. Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, SJ, President, Union of Superiors General (USG), spoke and praised the new types of pastoral attention priests have learned and lived even during lockdown. There were also brief contribu- tions from invited guests on the role the Church has played in tackling Covid-19, including Marta Petrosillo from Caritas Internationalis, who lamented that while it has not been feasible to help everyone who has requested it due to limited funds, that Caritas has still assisted nearly 9 mil- lion people. The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo di Segni, also underscored the im- portance of religions working together at times of crisis. One religious sister reflected on how in Congo, it was beautiful to see all the different religions, naming specifically Catholics, Muslims, and Orthodox, work together to combat COVID19 contagion. Ambassador Axworthy concluded the birthday event quoting St. John Henry Newman's poem 'Lead Kindly Light' and with the UK and Holy See National Anthems being sung by the BE Choir and the Pontifical Beda College choir.
Deborah Castellano Lubov is Se- nior Vatican & Rome Correspon- dent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio, Sky,and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pon- tifical Council for Social Commu- nications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other
When four Congolese business owners were caught trying to bribe a Mercy Corps worker with bags of cash in November 2018, staff members at the internatio- nal NGO were shocked. But the organisation was about to make an even bigger discovery: a multi-layered aid scam that was siphoning off money - aid officials think millions - meant for the Democratic Republic of Congo's most vulnerable. The scam - known about by aid organisations since late 2018 but made public for the first time now, after a more than nine-month in- vestigation by The New Humanitarian - involved corrupt aid workers, business owners, and community leaders. Together, they zeroed in on the humanitarian sector's flagship rapid response programmes - the main mechanism for helping displaced people in Congo, where hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid are spent every year. After the November 2018 incident, Mercy Corps launched an internal investigation into the scam. The probe lasted nearly a year and found evidence that while the NGO had been affected since early 2018 - roughly the same time it began doing rapid response - similar schemes had most likely been in play for more than a decade and affected multi- ple NGOs doing rapid response programmes that use the same UN guidelines. Some $639,000 was lost by Mercy Corps and partners in just a few months - including $65,000 by the Danish Refugee Council TNH found after obtaining leaked documents and interviewing more than a dozen Mercy Corps staff members, the scam's ringleaders, aid officials, and aid recipients.* A senior Mercy Corps official, who was involved in the investigation but asked not to be named, believes other aid agencies that were part of the Rapid Response to Population Movement (RRMP) programme lost $6 million in around two years. This figure was not included in the NGO's final investigative report. When a conflict or natural disaster occurred, aid groups would receive reports from local community leaders that exaggerated the number of peo- ple who had fled their homes. Bu- siness people would then pay kickbacks to corrupt aid workers to register hundreds of additional people for cash support who were not actually displaced. The merchants would then receive the aid payments and share with the local leaders. Of the 19 Mercy Corps aid workers alleged to be involved in the scam, some were using the extra cash to buy new cars, Armani glasses, and iPhones, according to several of their colleagues who spoke to TNH. One even started building a hotel, colleagues said. The only criminal punishment anyone in the scam has faced to date is one night in prison after shoving an aid worker during an altercation over fraudulent payments. Real displaced people caught in Congo's endless wars said the scheme was galling. "To think that aid was there, and people were stealing… it is awful," said Miridi Basiraye, the leader of a group of internally displaced people in Kalungu, a town in eastern Congo. The complexity of the scam and collusion between different parties have stunned seasoned aid workers, who are more used to dealing with small-scale corrup- tion involving staff members and beneficiaries. They have also triggered counter-fraud specialists to call for major reforms to the way humanitarian organisations operate, in Congo and beyond. The fraud scheme showed how, after some 25 years, humanitarian aid in Congo is no longer just a lifeline for those fleeing conflict but an opportunity - for local power brokers, business owners, and aid workers at both international and local organisations - to cash in on the country's endless wars. 'We did not see this coming' During the year the fraud scheme was discovered, Congo's humanitarian situation was classified as a "level three" crisis - the gravest classification possi- ble - putting the country on a par with Syria and Yemen. Yet the multi-million dollar budget was shrinking for the RRMP, the largest rapid response pro- gramme and one of the biggest aid programmes overall in Congo, helping millions of conflict-affected people every year. Investigators concluded that the speed of rapid response pro- grammes - which provide NGOs with advance financing to respond to population movements soon after they occur - meant few efforts were made to check who was being registered as displaced and where millions of dollars of aid money were ultimately going.
Confirmed cases of coronavirus in two of the six UN-protected displacement camps in South Sudan have led to renewed calls for the 190,000 residents to return to their homes, despite safety concerns as new waves of vio- lence grip the country. The UN's peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, "strongly encouraged" residents in March to leave the overcrowded sites - a call repeated last month after two cases of the virus emerged in a camp in the capital, Juba. UN police officers have withdrawn from the camps to protect themselves from COVID-19, while government security forces have intermittently blocked entry to some sites, ostensibly to stop the spread of the disease. The camps - known as Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites - were set up at the beginning of South Sudan's civil war, in 2013, when civilians fled to UNMISS bases to escape ethnic violence. Protected by UN peacekeepers, they have nonetheless been targeted by armed groups, and UNMISS has struggled to control violent crime inside the sites. Cramped conditions have caused disease outbreaks in the past - and with COVID-19 now spreading in one of the most congested camps, aid groups fear a new health crisis may be coming. Calls for residents to leave the camps - both from the UN and the South Sudanese authorities - predate the coronavirus pandemic and have increased since the for- mation of a power-sharing unity government in February. But conflict around the country - clashes left at least 200 people dead last month in eastern Jonglei state - means many residents don't feel safe going home, while others face returns to occupied properties or towns and villages still in ruins. Calls for residents to leave the camps predate the coronavirus pandemic and have increased since the formation of a power- sharing unity government in February. This briefing looks at how the coronavirus and related restric- tions are affecting camp residents, and explores the wider context behind calls for them to return home. How has life changed in the camps? Since the first cases of the coronavirus were reported among PoC residents, the government's security services have intermittently surrounded the sites and blocked residents from entering and exiting. At camps in the northern cities of Bentiu and Malakal, residents were told - without evidence - that they could not leave because they had the virus, while residents at a camp in Juba were left without access to water supplies for three days in May after the army blocked the entrances to the PoC site following the shooting of a soldier. The COVID-19 crisis has created hostility towards foreigners that provides a motivation for such ac- tions. Suspicions that camp residents have the virus are partly because of their proximity to UN staff - the first three positive ca- ses in South Sudan were all UN in- ternational staff. But, according to the data available, PoC residents are no more likely to have COVID-19 than anyone else in the country. Many of the coronavirus cases in South Sudan have emerged on the country's borders, not in the camps, and track cross-border trade rather than the movement of humanitarians. Nevertheless, the PoC residents are being found guilty by associa- tion. And, as elsewhere in the world, the foreigner has become a politically useful weapon to displace blame for the virus. Since the UN police officers (UNPOL), who manage crime in the PoCs, effectively stopped patrolling the sites on 16 May, additional security issues have been reported in some camps. In the Bentiu PoC, residents said the culprits of a recent killing took advantage of UNPOL's absence to carry out the crime and "escape without arrest". Interruptions to international travel and supply chains have also significantly impeded the ability of aid agencies to get both staff and medical resources into the camps. This puts many more people at risk as a host of other diseases are common in the PoCs, including malaria, measles, and acute diarrhoea. Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/ICRC Children in the Malakal Protection of Civilians site in South Sudan in 2017. Why does the government want the camps closed? The government's hostility towards the camps is deep-rooted. Since winning military victories in major urban centres in mid-2014, sending people fleeing into UN bases, it has accused the sites of housing rebels, and pressed for them to be closed. The camps are seen by some within the government as a viola- tion of its sovereignty. They are also a visible indication that some of the civilian population still fear the armed forces. With the inauguration of the power- sharing government, the government has increased the pressure on the PoCs to close. The COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to further a political goal under the guise of a public health concern. Where does UNMISS stand? Given the danger of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the congested camps, UNMISS staff in March "very strongly encouraged people in the PoCs to return home".The UN peacekeeping mission also said that the threat to those living in the camps, if they were to return home, had "lowered" since the formation of the transitional government. "We can now prioritise deploying peacekeepers to hotspot loca- tions… rather than tying them down to static duties at protection sites," said David Shearer, the mission's top official. Two recent draft reports published by the UNMISS Upper Nile field of- fice and seen by The New Humanitarian, argue that despite the history of forcible population displacement in Upper Nile state, the PoC camp in Malakal should be closed because "there are no lon- ger threats of physical harm to PoC site residents". The mission has long complained that the sites use up too many resources, preventing UNMISS from fulfilling its mandate to protect civilians elsewhere in the country. One UN report in 2019 described the situation in the camps as "untenable" - citing communal ten- sions, the lack of economic opportunities, and social problems of crime and alcohol abuse. But an independent report on the PoCs commissioned by the UN's migration agency, IOM, said UNMISS has never had the capacity to adequately protect civilians outside its bases, and that the sites should not be used as a "scapegoat" for the mission's wider failings. Is it safe for camp residents to return home? Despite the formation of a transitional government in February, there is ongoing conflict in South Sudan that has left many PoC residents worried about leaving. Since a new cabinet was announced on 12 March, there has been fighting in Western Bahr el Ghazal state (where Wau PoC camp is located), Unity state (where Bentiu PoC camp is located), and Upper Nile state (where Malakal PoC is located). State governors have yet to be announced by the transitional government. Such an announcement is likely to bring further clashes, as powerful mi l itary commanders are competing for these positions. Some civi lians also worry that their enemies will be empowered by such appointments. "We fear that the announcement [of the governors] wi l l just lead to more war," one resident of the Juba PoC camp told TNH. Shilluk residents of Malakal PoC face a particularly tough situation. From 2013-2017, the local Shilluk population were forcibly displaced from their homes by government forces, and fled to the PoC fol lowing what the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan described as "a pattern of ethnic cleansing and population enginee- ring". Many PoC residents feel their presence in the UN base represents a last hold on their former land, and that they cannot return to their ho- mes in Malakal because they would face death at the hands of government forces. Camp residents point to recent attacks and killings of Shilluk civi l ians - who attempted to resettle outside the PoC site in territory disputed by the Padang Dinka and the Shi l luk - as evidence that their security is sti l l not assured if it were to be closed. Simi lar difficulties exist elsewhere. After the 2015 peace agreement, Bentiu PoC residents returned to their rural homes only to face a large-scale government offensive that killed thousands. Much of Bentiu is sti l l in ruins, with the houses of PoC residents no lon- ger standing, and compl icated land claims must be resolved before they can begin the difficult process of rebui lding their l ives. Unl ike other PoCs, Bentiu includes tens of thousands of people who came from rural areas rather than from within the town. Some people have moved back to their villages in recent weeks. However, rural land is still deeply and violently contested, and the annual season when house-building is possible has now passed. People in these vi l lages are already concerned that those coming from the Bentiu PoC will bring COVID-19 to these relatively isolated settlements and homesteads. Those who do want to leave the camps often have no home to return to, either in the towns or in rural areas. In Juba, many PoC dwellers have had their homes occupied by others, and it's unclear if they wil l be able to get them back.