13 April 2018-The first-ever international conference to help the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) opened at the United Nations Office at Geneva on Friday amid dire warnings of a growing humanitarian crisis in the vast African country.

Despite massive natural resources and major socio-economic changes under Government-led initiatives, years of violence by armed groups vying for control – along with ethnic strife in the country’s restive east, and political and ethnic instability – has created massive food insecurity, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In Geneva, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told donors that more than two million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition in DRC and 13 million people require assistance there urgently – double the number of those in need last year.

He added that DRC is also facing “the worst outbreak of cholera in fifteen years,” as well as “an epidemic of sexual violence,” committed mainly against children.

“As I speak, the resurgence of an inter-ethnic conflict in Ituri in February is killing many people and leading to internal and cross-border displacement of even more,” he said.

Thousands of farmers in the crisis gripped Kasais have missed three successive agricultural seasons, resulting in a drop in agricultural production, he added.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva during a break in the conference, Mr. Lowcock said that he expected to confirm more than $500 million in pledges before the end of the day.

Total needs for the DRC for this year are estimated at $1.7 billion ­– nearly four times more than the amount secured last year.

An additional $500 million is needed to support 807,000 Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries and more than 540,000 refugees from other countries who are in DRC.