April 5, 2018 / 6:21 PM / in 3 months

U.N. deactivates maximum emergency level for Congo crisis

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - The United Nations is downgrading Congo from its highest level of humanitarian emergency after the arrival of aid - and an outcry from government officials who say the focus on such woes is deterring investment.

It activated a so-called Level 3 emergency for Democratic Republic of Congo in October, putting on the country on the same footing as Syria and Yemen.

But that is due to be deactivated this month, a senior U.N. official said in a statement on Thursday.

Over 13 million Congolese need humanitarian aid, twice as many as last year, and 7.7 million face severe food insecurity, according to a U.N. report last month, as militia violence spikes across much of the country’s eastern borderlands.

Humanitarian officials from foreign donors and aid agencies have repeatedly said in recent weeks that the crisis is worsening and that the country’s needs are well short of being met.

Congo’s government rejects that the humanitarian situation is getting worse. It says it only recognizes about 231,000 internally displaced Congolese compared with U.N. estimates of around 4.3 million - 19 times higher.

The government is also shunning a conference this month in Geneva organized by the United Nations and other donors in an effort to raise $1.7 billion for Congo, saying the focus on humanitarian woes is deterring investment.

In the statement, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said that since the Level 3 emergency was activated for Congo last October over 1.1 million people had received life-saving aid.

“The benchmarks established on 20 October 2017 to measure the L3 scale-up have largely been met. The L3 status will accordingly be deactivated on 20 April 2018,” Lowcock said.

The crisis in Congo’s perpetually volatile east - where conflict, hunger and disease killed millions in civil wars around the turn of the century - has been further fueled by President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down when his constitutional mandate expired in 2016.

Kabila denies clinging to power and says that elections have been delayed because of logistical problems.

Renewed violence between Lendu farmers and Hema herders in the eastern Ituri province since February has also killed dozens and forced more than 60,000 to flee to neighboring Uganda.

Reporting by Fiston Mahama; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Tim Cocks and Alison Williams

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