Fresh fighting between Government forces, renegade troops and rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has uprooted yet more people, with new waves in the coming days expected to add to the over 100,000 who have already fled the latest conflict, United Nations agencies said today as they mobilized to face the crisis.
“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,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official Sarah Crowe reported from outside the emptied ghost villages around the town of Sake in North Kivu province.
Some 65,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are sheltering in the larger Mugunga area close to Goma, the provincial capital, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said humanitarian agencies are stretched to the limit.
“Continuing attacks and populations displacements are robbing already extremely poor people of all their survival strategies, and making them vulnerable to armed elements, especially to sexual violence,” WFP reported in another dispatch from North Kivu.
A recent inter-agency mission to villages in Masisi district estimated that as many as 16,000 new IDPs were sheltering along the road and a humanitarian response is being planned for the area where IDP sites have already reached maximum capacity.
“We are extremely concerned that an intensification of fighting in North Kivu will lead to tens of thousands of newly displaced flooding already over-crowded displacement sites,” Ms. Pagonis said, noting that this would be in addition to the over 300,000 displaced in North Kivu since December last year, which has already brought the cumulative total to over 700,000 IDPs there.
“All the people left this village,” said Pastor Safari Maywono of Sake, which has been newly secured by the UN Mission in DR Congo (MONUC) and Congolese forces. “The military came to the village and the people got scared and left,” he told UNICEF’s Ms. Crowe.
In and around the Mugunga UNICEF and the non-governmental organization (NGO) Solidarites have already provided 120,000 people with cooking utensils, blankets, plastic sheeting, soap, water bottles and mosquito nets.
“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,” Ms. Crowe said.
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,” she added.
Earlier this week UNICEF took delivery of some 290 tonnes of emergency household kits in Goma, comprising BP5 high protein biscuits and emergency shelter supplies.
As of today, WFP reported that it had started distributions to nearly 65,000 IDPs in Masisi which had until recently been no-go area for humanitarian operations for security reasons.
“Despite this progress in reaching the affected, reports of clashes continue, jeopardizing deliveries to those who need them most,” the agency said. “Getting vital assistance into Masisi continues to be problematic as armed groups are currently blocking the movement of trucks in and out of the area. An armed escort from MONUC is needed in almost all areas outside Goma.
“WFP is concerned at the lack of humanitarian capacity in North Kivu as NGO partners are already stretched to their limit,” it added. Food needs in eastern DRC have already tripled in the past year and WFP still requires an additional $12 million for its existing operations until the end of the year.