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DRC : humanitarian crisis in Kasaï

“A disaster for more than two million people”

The region of Grand Kasaï in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been the scene of intense violence in recent months. The resulting humanitarian crisis has affected more than two million people. Handicap International’s teams, present in Kananga since 2015, are working to assist the most vulnerable people.

Group of children in Mugunga 3 camp near Goma (photo archive – 2013) | © T. Mayer/Handicap International

Violence in Grand Kasaï, a region in the centre of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has killed hundreds of people, injured thousands more and displaced over one million people since August 2016. “It’s a disastrous situation. And despite the seriousness of this humanitarian crisis, which is very recent, it is not getting enough attention. More than one million people are in urgent need of assistance,” explains Guillaume Zerr, head of Handicap International’s operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Handicap International, which has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo for more than twenty years1, is one of the only humanitarian organisations currently active in Kasaï Central province2. In February, the organisation conducted an assessment to identify the needs of those affected and to plan a possible emergency response.

Vital needs

“Many people need protection: thousands of children, now extremely vulnerable, have been forced to join local militias. Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence. Many older and disabled people, who often suffer discrimination within their own communities, are even more vulnerable than before. It is becoming increasingly difficult to access healthcare and to supply medication, and displaced people have very limited access to health services. Many casualties need rehabilitation care. There is a serious risk of severe malnutrition among the local population because people have been unable to farm their land. The provinces of Grand Kasaï were already alarmingly underdeveloped before this humanitarian crisis, with few lines of communication or surfaced roads, which makes it much harder to get healthcare, food and other humanitarian assistance through to affected people,” adds Guillaume Zerr.

Emergency response

As part of its efforts to assist victims, Handicap International aims to ensure casualties benefit from rehabilitation care in two hospitals by recruiting physiotherapists and supplying equipment such as exercise tables and weights, and mobility aids including walking frames and wheelchairs.3 The organisation also wishes to provide them with psychological support to help them overcome their trauma4. Another priority is to ensure greater protection for unaccompanied children, women, older people and disabled people by training local organisations to identify the most vulnerable among them5. Handicap International is also planning to distribute essential household items, such as cooking utensils and hygiene kits containing soap, to thousands of affected families.

Lastly, the organisation also helps to transport humanitarian aid to people living in areas which are insecure and difficult to access.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are in desperate straits and still haven’t received any kind of support. Our priority is to help them,” says Guillaume Zerr.


In August 2016, a local conflict broke out in Dibaya territory, Kasaï Central, between the tribal chief, Kamuina Nsapu, and the national government, after it refused to recognise his status in a joint ministerial decision. The DRC’s armed forces (FARDC) subsequently launched an offensive against Kamuina Nsapu, resulting in his death. The conflict had a catalytic effect and led to mounting pressure from the local population for greater independence in the exercise of tribal authority. Militias formed in their name now regularly attack symbols of the state across a vast area covering three provinces: Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental. Hundreds of people have already been killed in the conflict, thousands have been injured and more than one million people have been displaced. More than two million people have been affected by this alarming situation and will need humanitarian assistance over the next six months.

Handicap International in DRC and Kasaï

Handicap International has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1995. It launched its first operation in Mbuji Mayi, in the province of Kasaï Oriental, in response to an epidemic of poliomyelitis. Handicap International then opened a rehabilitation centre with a workshop to produce orthoses and prostheses. In 1998, it launched rehabilitation projects in Kinshasa (more information on the DRC country card).

Handicap International has worked in Kasaï Central province since 2015, where it organises rehabilitation and inclusive employment activities for people with disabilities in the city of Kananga. The project is funded by USAID (TEAM project).



1Handicap International has been present in the DRC since 1995.

2 Handicap International has organised rehabilitation and inclusive employment activities in the city of Kananga since 2015.

3 With the support of the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

4 By providing one-to-one assistance and organising listening sessions and discussion groups.

5 To secure access to humanitarian services (health care, food, and so on)

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