|Over 20,000 people have fled this camp in Kibumba, DR Congo to escape fighting; it’s at least the second time they have been displaced in the last year.|
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 30 October 2008 – In eastern DR Congo’s North Kivu province, war rages on between government forces and rebels. Over the last six weeks alone, more than 250,000 people have been forced to flee fighting, bringing the total number of displaced people in the province to over 1 million.
As the rebels close in on the city of Goma, tens of thousands are fleeing the front line into the city limits. In the chaos caused by the government retreat, shops and homes have been looted. Many deaths and incidents of sexual violence have been reported throughout the capital.
Still, people continue to arrive in droves, seeking refuge from the fighting.
Aid activities temporarily suspended
“We’re now starting to see internally displaced people who have been displaced for the second, third, fourth and even fifth time,” said UNICEF Communications Specialist in Goma, Jaya Murthy. Nearly 20 per cent of the population of North Kivu is now displaced.
However, the current violence has forced aid organizations to suspend their humanitarian activities temporarily throughout most of the province.
“Because of the insecurity, humanitarian access is virtually zero right now,” said Mr. Murthy. “We just can’t get to the places where we need to get to assist these people who are truly desperate in need of assistance.”
Lack of food and safe water
Without help from aid groups, many of the displaced have trouble finding sources of food – most are subsistence farmers – and widespread malnutrition is now a major concern. Each time they flee, the displaced people move further from home and their fields and are forced to leave precious items behind.
Through its partners, UNICEF is trucking drinking water to organized displacement camps and some spontaneous settlements to prevent outbreaks of cholera and dysentery. Many of the displaced are now hiding in the bush and are harder to reach.
As the fighting continues, protection of children has also become a major issue. Members of displaced families are often separated from each other, and aid groups are seeing thousands of children arrive in communities without guardians.
Protection and monitoring
“Children are even more prone, more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, violence and even recruitment into armed groups when they are displaced,” said Mr. Murthy. All sides of the Congolese conflict have been accused of using and forcibly recruiting child soldiers to work as porters and cooks and even frontline soldiers.
UNICEF provides assistance to un-chaperoned children by providing a temporary family to keep them protected while tracing the location of their actual family.
Mr. Murthy said UNICEF and its partners are carefully monitoring the security situation to see when their humanitarian aid programme – one of UNICEF’s largest in the world – might resume.