Congo, Democratic Republic of the

UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu visits families displaced by violence in DR Congo

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2007/McKenzie
UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu looks out of a UN helicopter on her way to visit Nyanzale camp for displaced people in North Kivu, DR Congo.

By David McKenzie

NORTH KIVU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 18 June 2007 – UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu has just returned from a trip to war-torn eastern DR Congo, where she witnessed the dire situation of displaced women and children.

The Nyanzale camp for those who have fled the violence in North Kivu is only six months old, yet there are already 12,000 people here. They live amid crowded conditions, in a desperate situation. Continued fighting among a variety of militia groups has made the surrounding areas extremely unsafe and difficult for humanitarian groups to reach.

“The reason why this crisis is even more serious than it was in the past is the sheer scale,” said UNICEF Emergency Specialist Luciani Calestini. “We are talking about over 200,000 people who have been forced to leave their homes, and what is making it even more difficult to manage is that security in the villages where these people come from remains extremely precarious.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2007/McKenzie
Lucy Liu fills a water can in Nyanzale camp, DR Congo, where safe water can protect children and families from the risk of cholera, typhoid and other endemic diseases.

Women and children bear the brunt

Even after last year’s largely peaceful elections in DR Congo, the eastern part of this vast country remains volatile. Today, the situation for civilians here is critical. Mass movements of people away from conflict zones have added to the death toll in the DR Congo conflict, which has taken the lives of an estimated 4 million people since 1998.

And as Ms. Liu found on her visit to Nyanzale, women and children are hardest hit.

“Did you hear the army was coming or see them coming, or were you surprised?” she asked Furaha Nyirasafari, a 31-year-old mother at the camp.

“I was in the village when the militia arrived,” Ms. Nyirasafari replied. “They started looting. They were stealing all of our belongings. And it was at that moment that we decided that we had to run and leave everything behind.

“Right now I have no hope for the future,” she continued. “All I can see is suffering for me and my children. Every time I see my children cry it makes me despair even more.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2007/McKenzie
At least 12,000 people at Nyanzale – just one of the camps that dot the landscape in North Kivu – have fled perpetual flare-ups of conflict between the militia groups in the area.

Still hopeful for change

Help is coming to Nyanzale, however, as UNICEF’s partners rapidly establish water points at the camp; by securing safe water, its residents can avoid the risk of cholera, typhoid and other endemic diseases. At the same time, education of a sort is taking place in temporary classrooms set up on the edge of the camp.

But until a stable political situation is achieved and all sides put down their weapons, families in eastern DR Congo will not find permanent peace.

“I had the opportunity to meet with children and women who have faced unspeakable horrors, and who continue to live in an unstable environment,” said Ms. Liu. “Yet it is clear to me that the people of DRC are still very much hopeful for change, which can only happen if the international community continues to support the work of agencies like UNICEF and its partners.”


 

 

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14 June 2007:
UNICEF correspondent David McKenzie reports on UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu’s recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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