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Democratic Republic of the Congo: renewed fighting hits civilians

01-10-2008 Interview

On 28 August 2008, fighting resumed between the armed forces of the DRC, the armed opposition movement of the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple and other armed groups. The situation in North and South Kivu worsened drastically, forcing around 100,000 people to flee their homes and exacerbating the plight of the civilian population. Max Hadorn, the ICRC’s head of delegation in the DRC, describes the seriousness of the humanitarian situation and talks about what the ICRC is doing to help.

   

   
 
Max Hadorn, head of ICRC delegation in DRC    
     Fighting in the two Kivus has intensified since 28 August. What effect has this been having on civilians?  

The main effect is that people have been fleeing the areas affected. Humanitarian agencies estimate that around 100,000 people have been displaced since fighting resumed. Some population movements are caused directly by the fighting, while others are people leaving their villages as a precaution, to avoid looting and other acts of violence on the part of arms bearers.

People have been leaving North Kivu for the safer areas of North Rutshuru and South Lubero, 170 km north of Goma. Those fleeing South Kivu are heading for Kalehe, 40 km north of Bukavu.

The other consequences of the clashes are casualties among civilians and arms bearers, difficulty in obtaining water and medical care and, in general, the fact that people’s basic needs are simply not being met.

 What are you doing to help?  

Following the resumption of hostilities, our teams rapidly evaluated both the needs and the existing programmes in certain parts of North Kivu (South Lubero and North Rutshuru) and in South Kivu (Minova). The aim was to ensure that our response was appropriate and to coordinate our efforts with those of other humanitarian agencies.

To respond to the most urgent needs, we are supporting 17 health facilities by supplying them with medicines and medical supplies for treating the wounded. We have distributed kits that will enable them to treat around 200 casualties. These facilities cover a population of over 600,000. We have also made a surgeon and a nurse available to the hospitals of North Kivu, where they are conducting operations on the wounded.

With the support of the ICRC, the Red Cross Society of the DRC has been collecting bodies in the area of Rutshuru and in Sake, some 30 km from Goma, in order to give them a decent burial.

Large numbers of people have taken refuge In Kanyabayonga (North Kivu), so we have installed two 5,000-litre water tanks there. These will provide drinking water for over 10,000 people.

Finally, again working with the RDC Red Cross, we are continuing to distribute food, seed and agricultural implements to almost 40,000 people in those areas where this is possible, especially in the eastern part of Rutshuru (North Kivu).

 Is the fighting affecting your work in North and South Kivu?  

It is difficult or even impossible for us to work in some areas. This slows down our work or prevents us from reaching some groups affected by the hostilities, particularly in the areas to the west of Goma. But wherever the security situation permits, in the regions of North Rutshuru, South Lubero, Goma and South Kivu, the ICRC is continuing its relief work.

And while we’re on the subject, I would point out that international humanitarian law requires all parties to the conflict to allow aid for civilians to pass rapidly and without obstruction.

 How can the ICRC protect people and prevent breaches of IHL?  

We are maintaining a dialogue with all parties to the conflict and are reminding them of their obligations under international humanitarian law. We emphasize that civilians are the first to suffer the effects of conflict, and that nothing justifies breaches of IHL. Arms bearers have a responsibility to respect the lives and well-being of civilians, the wounded and anyone captured in connection with the conflict.