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Update No. 97/05 on ICRC activities related to the Zairian conflict

17-04-1997 Operational Update

 ICRC air bridge for internally displaced  

In the afternoon of Tuesday, 15 April, an ICRC-chartered Hercules C-130 took off on its first flight from Goma to Kisangani, some 700 kilometres to the north-east. It returned in the early evening, carrying on board a group of 105 people, the first of some 15,000 internally displaced the ICRC aims to airlift to Goma and Bukavu over the next six weeks. The Hercules and a Boeing 727, which is expected to arrive on Wednesday, 16 April, will be used for this operation. In Kisangani, priority lists for the airlift are being compiled with the assistance of the Zairian Red Cross, which also distributes food to people waiting for transfer. Depending on airport capacities, fuel availability and other logistical factors, two to three daily rotations are planned.

The idea for an air bridge was sparked when humanitarian organizations realized that thousands of internally displaced, stranded hundreds of kilometres from home without food or other resources, would be unable to make the journey east of their own accord. Furthermore, a rapid transfer of internally displaced in Kisangani would pave the way for the repatriation of Rwandan refugees.

Most of the cost of this unique air operation will be covered by substantial financial contributions from the European Commission and the American and Norwegian governments.

 Flight authorizations received at last  

Preparations to set up an air bridge have been underway for some time. However, lack of access to airpo rts hampered operations until 14 April, when the ICRC finally received written authorization for its aircraft to fly to and from Bukavu (a first for the ICRC), Uvira, Kalemie, Lubumbashi, Mbuji-Mayi, Kongolo, Kasongo, Kabalo, Isiro and Bunia. Apart from allowing delegates to start the airlift, access to the above locations will enable them to carry out assessment missions and to respond rapidly in case of emergencies.

Before authorization to fly ICRC aircraft to Kisangani had been received, delegates had organized for 464 displaced to be flown to Goma on three planes of the WFP and UNHCR on 14 April.

In a further positive development, delegates were able to return to Lubumbashi on 15 April. In cooperation with the Zairian Red Cross they will continue to work for internally displaced and refugees in the provinces of Shaba and Kasai.

 Relief assistance to facilitate resettlement  

Relief assistance programmes are being adapted in line with the changing situation on the ground. Ongoing programmes in Goma, Bukavu and Uvira will continue as normal. In addition, the ICRC is providing airlifted internally displaced with food and non-food assistance before and after transfer.

While waiting for their flight in Kisangani, internally displaced are issued with rations consisting of cereals, beans, oil and salt. On leaving the plane in Bukavu, each family is given 5 kg of high-protein biscuits to cover immediate nutritional needs. 

At the same time, an assistance programme is being launched in eastern Zaire to facilitate the reintegration of up to 40,000 returning families. Resettlement kits consisting of three blankets, a jerrycan, a tarpaulin, a cooking pot, one kg of soap, a hoe and 30 g of vegetable seeds will be distributed to returnees.

In Goma, Bukavu and Uvira, ongoing ad hoc food and non-food programmes for internally displaced, refugees and local institutions and organizations, such as hospitals, orphanages, churches and local NGOs, will be maintained. Distributions are carried out in cooperation with the Zairian Red Cross. Food-for-work programmes, especially public works and water and sanitation projects, will continue for around 1,100 people in Kisangani, Bukavu and Uvira.

 Internally displaced in Kalemie and Kindu  

A six-week relief programme was launched for around 35,000 internally displaced who are expected to return to Uvira by boat from Kalemie, Fizi and Kigoma (Tanzania). Between 9 and 13 April, some 4,500 families arrived in Uvira. On arrival, each family was given 5 kg of biscuits, followed by full food rations consisting of maize, beans and oil. Food rations are also planned for refugees and internally displaced emerging from the forest around Kindu. So far, some 800 internally displaced have been counted in Kindu, but more are expected in the weeks ahead.

 Food and medical care for refugees near Kisangani  

Since 7 April, a Hercules cargo plane has been transporting food, medicines and medical material from Nairobi to Kisangani. In cooperation with other humanitarian organizations, 250 Zairian Red Cross volunteers are distributing food and providing medical care for Rwandan refugees massed along the railway line between Kisangani and Ubundu, who are in an extremely poor condition and urgently require further assistance. Zairian Red Cross activities for the refugees are supported by three ICRC delegates, including two nurses. In response to an outbreak of cholera reported last weekend, large quantities of intravenous fluids and other drugs were brought in by the ICRC. Delegates also continued to assist h ealth structures in Kisangani.

 Coordination within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement  

In the framework of the ICRC's general direction and responsibility for operations in Zaire, whose aim is to ensure a coherent and efficient response to humanitarian needs in Zaire by the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC and International Federation are proceeding with their consultations at headquarters and field level. Discussions are being held on the definition of objectives and activities that would best support and contribute to the development of the Zairian Red Cross Society.