DRC: Children most vulnerable as thousands need urgent aid

Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Hundreds of children are fending for themselves after being separated from their families in fighting between the army and rebels in the eastern province of North Kivu, aid workers have said.

"Up to 100,000 people fled their homes due to heavy fighting between belligerent armed groups in North Kivu last week," said Jaya Murthy, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) communications specialist in the region. At least 60 percent of those who fled are children.

"The condition of newly displaced children and women is desperate," Murthy said. Schooling has also been disrupted for the second year.

About 250,000 people have been displaced in the past two months in the province following clashes between the army and the rebel Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), led by the renegade general, Laurent Nkunda. This has brought the total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the province to one million or 20 percent of the population.

According to UNICEF, thousands of people have had very little to eat since fleeing and minimal access to clean water and healthcare.   

Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) expressed concern over the tens of thousands of people still on the move. "Without improvements in the security situation, people will be forced to continue running," said Clio van Cauter, the MSF spokeswoman.

"Even with today's [4 November] widely reported aid delivery, displaced people throughout North Kivu continue to be in urgent need of food, clean water, healthcare and basic items like blankets and shelter materials," she said.

Van Cauter said two trucks of supplies had been sent to Rutshuru, one of the areas affected by the clashes. MSF had also performed at least 100 medical consultations in its mobile clinics in the area of Kibati, north of the main town of Goma. A large number of IDPs are camping in the area.

MSF teams are also treating cholera patients in the IDP camps and at treatment centres in the areas of Goma, Kitchanga and Minova. "There have been 69 cases of cholera in the four displaced persons camps around Goma over the past week, and 20 in Kitchanga. In Buturande, near Rutshuru, there are five to 10 new cases per day," according to MSF.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is trying to determine the whereabouts of tens of thousands of IDPs who fled from three camps in the Rutshuru area after attacks.

"The internally displaced people from the camps around Rutshuru have reportedly fled north towards Nyamirima and Kanyabayonga and eastwards towards Ishasha in Uganda," according to UNHCR briefing notes. "Over the weekend, UNHCR teams in Ishasha received more than 1,000 refugees originating from the Rutshuru area in the DRC. The new arrivals immediately asked to be relocated to Nakivale refugee settlement, 350kms from the border."

Some 10,000 Congolese refugees have arrived in Uganda since fighting erupted in late August. In the six camps run by UNHCR around Goma, there are now 135,000 displaced people.