|Kahima Bourie (second from left) sits with her children outside the home where they have found shelter in Goma, capital of North Kivu province, DR Congo. Her family was displaced by conflict from their hometown of Kibumba.|
By Natacha Ikoli
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a five-day visit to assess the situation of women and children amidst what is widely seen as Africa's worst humanitarian crisis. Here is one in a series of related reports.
NEW YORK, USA, 28 August 2009 – The situation facing children and families in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo was critical enough as they faced increasing conflict and insecurity in recent years, “but at this moment the country is facing three major crises,” says UNICEF Deputy Representative in DR Congo Steven Lauwerier.
These crises are taking place simultaneously in northern DR Congo, as well as North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, Mr. Lauwerier noted in a recent interview with UNICEF Television.
In all three areas, he said, various factions are battling for territorial control or political power, and relentlessly recruiting children into armed conflict.
Although the Governments of DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda undertook joint military operations to defeat the armed groups earlier this year, the groups are still fighting. In fact, said Mr. Lauwerier, they are engaging in an unprecedented level of sexual violence, amongst other methods, to terrorize the population.
Access to the displaced
The Deputy Representative added that significant abuses have been committed against civilians in the conflict zones, forcing many people to flee their homes. An estimated 120,000 people have been newly displaced by the fighting since May – including 75,000 since mid-June.
“In terms of access to the population, it’s quite difficult if fighting is still going on,” explained Mr. Lauwerier. “And of course, we don’t want to bring our aid workers, or organizations we work with, into dangerous areas.”
UNICEF and its partners are closely monitoring the situation and will send evaluation teams to assess the needs of the displaced as soon as possible, he said.
A sense of normalcy for children
UNICEF already has emergency programmes on the ground in the conflict-affected areas of DR Congo. The agency is currently preparing interventions to address the humanitarian impact of the latest waves of displacement there.
Mr. Lauwerier pointed out that UNICEF DR Congo “provides education, clean water and sanitation, and [has] set up a programme to protect children from further violation so that – in one way or another – their lives can be normalized.
“In a displaced persons’ camp or a refugee camp, ensuring that there is a space for these children to be children is very important,” he said.
With a focus on health, protection, nutrition and education, UNICEF is working closely with key partners to provide urgently needed relief to Congolese children, in particular, in the midst of complex web of crises.
Humanitarian crisis in DR Congo
Press release: Veneman visits Dungu, a community terrorized by the LRA
Press release: Executive Director calls for peace and security for eastern DRC
Children and families in DR Congo face multiple crises
Reaching out to mothers to prevent HIV