|Equipped with her new jerry can to carry clean water, a young girl makes her way to a makeshift shelter at Mugunga Camp outside Goma, DR Congo.|
By Sarah Crowe
NORTH KIVU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 27 September 2007 – Just a 20-minute drive west of Goma, the North Kivu provincial capital, the aftermath of recent fighting between government troops and dissident forces begins to unfold.
Hundreds of knee-high children with heavy loads and women with bundles on their heads and babies on their backs stream along the pot-holed road. Past makeshift camps where the displaced are packed together for safety, the landscape thins out. Beyond a series of military checkpoints, there is nothing until you reach the ghost villages in and around the town of Sake.
It was along this road that DR Congo President Joseph Kabila’s motorcade sped this week. His presence was a symbol of regaining control after weeks of heavy fighting here triggered a humanitarian crisis.
|A little girl from a displaced family carries a heavy bottle of water through Mugunga Camp outside Goma.|
Camps for the displaced
“All the people left this village,” said Pastor Safari Maywono of Sake, which has been newly secured by UN Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) and Congolese forces. “The military came to the village and the people got scared and left,” he added.
From Saki the townspeople went on foot to seek help. In and around the Mugunga Camp outside Goma – a refuge for those displaced by the fighting – UNICEF and the non-governmental organization Solidarites have already provided 120,000 people with cooking utensils, blankets, plastic sheeting, soap, water bottles and mosquito nets.
Mothers with babies and small children need special care. Malaria is the biggest killer here, so the mosquito nets are lifesavers.
Priority for separated children
As fast as supplies are handed out, however, the displaced keep coming. Children separated from their families, and now alone, get priority treatment. They are the most vulnerable to being recruited by the many armed forces in the region.
|In a warehouse in Goma, pots and other cooking utensils are loaded into household kits for the displaced.|
Evidence has emerged, via MONUC and from schools, that hundreds of children are being re-recruited – taken from both secondary and primary schools and marketplaces. In the camps for the displaced, the process of tracing the families of these unaccompanied minors has to kick in urgently.
“Many families have fled their homes with nothing except the clothes on their backs,” said UNICEF Emergency Officer Sylvia Danailov. “Children who have lost their parents are especially vulnerable. So doing this distribution [of supplies] helps them restore a bit of normalcy in their lives while being displaced and waiting for the situation to get better.”
Education, meanwhile, has been put on hold as a result of the conflict, but deliveries of school kits are expected to be trucked in soon.
Survival kits, for now
Since December 2006, more than 300,000 people have fled their homes in North Kivu, bringing the total to over 700,000 displaced in the province. Although UNICEF had already pre-positioned stocks of non-food items ready for emergencies in Goma, the warehouses have had to be replenished; with the security situation still volatile, stocks must be at the ready.
In the coming days, 290 tonnes of emergency kits – valued at over $1.7 million – are to be airlifted to Goma from pre-positioned stocks in Dubai, New Delhi and Pisa. Donated by the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the kits include BP5 high-protein biscuits, emergency shelter materials, blankets, cooking sets and other essential household items for 100,000 people.
Until a lasting regional political solution is found for this crisis, helping the displaced with survival kits seems the best course of action for now.