As the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan prepare to welcome His Holiness Pope Francis on January 31, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls on the international community to break the cycle of crisis in the two countries as humanitarian needs grow at an unprecedented pace. 

Although a peace deal was signed in 2018 that promised an end to the five-year civil war, the predominantly Christian nation of South Sudan is still reeling from violence. Highlights of the Pope's Apostolic Journey will include  meetings with representatives from charitable organizations, and internally displaced persons in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and an Ecumenical Prayer service. 

Kurt Tjossem, IRC, Regional Vice President said,

“Increasing violence and deteriorating conditions, including lack of basic services, has caused the situation in South Sudan to become a full-blown humanitarian emergency. With the country almost neglected, the total number of South Sudanese refugees has now passed 2 million and it is the largest refugee crisis in Africa. Meanwhile, the DRC is experiencing intensified conflicts and violence in the eastern provinces. With an increased number of outbreaks compounded by limited basic services, the humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate. 27 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance - including 15.8 million children, the scale and complexity of needs and protection concerns remain overwhelming. With continued global inflation, nearly 25 million Congolese and 7.8 million South Sudanese, which is about ¾   of the entire country's population, are  projected to experience crisis or worse (IPC 3+) levels of food insecurity in 2023.

The International Rescue Committee joins His Holiness Pope Francis in sharing a message of unity and reconciliation in the two countries wracked by violence and suffering. Our recent annual Watchlist report highlights how armed conflict, climate change and economic turmoil are pushing a growing minority of the world’s population into ever deeper crisis. The startling acceleration of emergencies globally highlights that action is needed now to break the cycle of crisis and save lives by investing in public services and a people-first financing strategy to directly support affected communities, tackling shared global challenges such as disease outbreaks like Ebola, and protecting civilians in conflict by tackling impunity for mass atrocities.

“Pope Francis’ visit to South Sudan and the DRC is an opportunity to spotlight some of the world’s most forgotten crises. We urge all religious and international leaders to follow his example and channel more focus and resources towards Africa, and do more to serve populations affected by conflict and crisis.”

The IRC has operated in DRC since 1996. We provide essential health services, including reproductive health services, as well as epidemic control, water and sanitation, education and support for survivors of violence. We work with communities on peacebuilding projects aimed at conflict reduction and economic recovery. In recent years, the IRC has launched emergency responses to contain Ebola, including the latest outbreak in eastern DRC. The IRC’s response to COVID-19, Ebola and other health crises includes training health workers, rehabilitating hospitals and clinics, and providing essential medicine. 

In South Sudan, the IRC started working in 1989. With more than 900 full-time staff members, the IRC provides critical primary and reproductive health and nutrition, environmental health, protection and economic recovery and resilience services to increasingly vulnerable internally displaced persons, refugees, returnees and host communities. The IRC in South Sudan partners with national and state authorities and local partners to strengthen health systems and support especially displaced populations to obtain durable solutions.