Up to 100,000 people displaced in the last week in North Kivu, DRC

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

UNICEF urgently responding to prevent cholera, malnutrition, and child exploitation

Up to 100,000 people, around 60 per cent of which are children, have fled their homes due to heavy fighting between armed groups in North Kivu last week. Around 250,000 people are believed to have been displaced in the last two months, bringing the total number of internally displaced to around one million or 20 per cent of the entire North Kivu population.

The condition of newly displaced children and women is desperate. Thousands have had very little to eat since fleeing. Their access to clean water and health care has been minimal.  Hundreds of children are presumed to have been separated from their families, forced to fend for their survival on their own. The school year that had just started has been disrupted for tens of thousands of children - the second year in a row. 
The consequences could be fatal for scores of children, both those displaced and those hosting the displaced. Cholera and measles epidemics are at serious risk of breaking out. Both diseases are easily communicable and flourish when large populations are on the move. Malaria, the largest killer of children in DRC, is even more of a threat as the displaced are in the open with little to protect themselves from disease-carrying mosquitoes. Malnutrition is sure to increase as children are not getting the nutrients they require for healthy development. Displaced children are highly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, violence, and recruitment into armed groups, being forced from the protection of their parents, communities, and schools.    
UNICEF with its partners is reinforcing emergency responses to the newly displaced. Trucks carrying clean water are reaching every day the 40,000-50,000 displaced people in Kibati, 15 km north of Goma. Clean water is critical to curb cholera and diarrhea outbreaks contracted from contaminated water sources. High energy biscuits for over 15,000 young children are being distributed in Kibati to help ward off malnutrition. Ill and injured children and women are receiving free medicine and health care to avert easily preventable deaths from disease. Children separated from their families are being placed with temporary foster families to protect them; family tracing is being carried out to locate their families so that they can soon be reunified.

In spite of extremely limited access, clean water has continued to be delivered to Rutshuru, where tens of thousands have been in flight. Today, UNICEF participated in an assessment mission, with partners and UN agencies, to evaluate the most pressing humanitarian needs there. Additional water and sanitation, health, nutrition, protection, and education activities are being planned to immediately intervene once assessments are completed. 

Supplies such as jerry cans, water bladders, and water treatment tablets have arrived and are being used to reinforce water and sanitation activities throughout the province. Thousands of blankets, buckets, and plastic sheets for emergency shelter will be airlifted in by the end of the week to provide essential items to the newly displaced. UNICEF requires $8 million to meet the additional needs in water and sanitation, health, nutrition, protection, education, essential household and emergency shelter for North Kivu’s conflict affected children and women over the next three months.

After more than a decade of insecurity and conflict, the suffering of children in eastern DRC continues at monumental levels. Only with durable peace and stability can eastern DRC’s long suffering children have the guaranteed possibility to survive and realize their potential. UNICEF calls on all armed groups and actors to give this possibility a chance, to respect all children’s rights enshrined in international law.

UNICEF is present in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.