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Update No. 2 on ICRC activities in Congo-Brazzaville

05-09-1997 Operational Update

 General situation  

The conflict in Congo-Brazzaville is worsening by the hour. The peace process is in a complete stalemate, radical speeches by all the protagonists have been held and, in the present chaos, no elections are foreseeable.

In terms of the humanitarian situation, conditions have been deteriorating in the last three months. The number of internally displaced people is put at well over 100,000, although this number is difficult to evaluate because so many are still on the move and scattered over a wide area of up to 300 km to the north of the capital, as well as to the south and west towards Pointe-Noire on the ocean. Many have crossed the Congo River to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The food reserves and water and sanitation facilities of Congo-Brazzaville are now being severely stretched, as are the means of the local population who have been sheltering those who have fled. The rainy season due to start in two to three weeks will only exacerbate the humanitarian crisis now emerging.

The ICRC is deeply concerned at the recent escalation of the methods of warfare being used by the belligerents and the indiscriminate use of more sophisticated weaponry: both air and tank bombardments have led to much destruction of essential infrastructure and loss of civilian life.

 The ICRC's current response  

 The war-wounded  

Given the security problems the IC RC is unable to set up a field hospital in or even close to the town of Brazzaville. It is supporting some 15 temporary health posts along the roads to help those fleeing the fighting, and these provide people with medicines and drinking water.

Delegates and Congolese Red Cross volunteers, in cooperation with Médecins sans frontières, are regularly distributing surgical and other medical supplies to the few medical facilities in Brazzaville which are still functioning. The ICRC is also monitoring the situation in the Makelekele hospital in the southern part of the city. The Talangay hospital located in the northern sector was forced to close as a result of the worsening security situation, and is now housed in a school in Kintele, 20 km north of Brazzaville. The wounded in the area are being centralized there, given first aid and stabilized and, as no surgical facilities or post-operative care are available, the more serious cases are evacuated by the ICRC to Kinshasa by boat. The ICRC has installed a 10,000-litre water tank and built latrines at the facility.

For those arriving in the DRC, including those managing to cross the river alone, a triage centre has been set up at Beach Ngobila, Kinshasa, with the ICRC's support, staffed by 12 National Society first-aiders and assisted by an ICRC nurse. More serious casualties are being moved on by the ICRC, in an ambulance loaned by the Belgian Red Cross, to the General Hospital in Kinshasa, which the institution has been supporting with surgical materials. It is also assisting the medical structures in Kinshasa with medicines and medical supplies. During the second half of August 156 war-wounded were evacuated from Brazzaville to Kinshasa General Hospital and a further 162 to other medical and surgical facilities in Kinshasa.

Congolese war-wounded who have received treatment and remain in Kinshasa, as well as refugees who are con tinuing to arrive from Brazzaville, are subsequently taken care of by the Federation, which, along with the Red Cross of the DRC, runs the Kinkole camp south of Kinshasa.

 The displaced  

Activities have concentrated on providing drinking water and non-food items for the tens of thousands of displaced people fleeing Brazzaville: some 30,000 who escaped to the islands in the middle of the river, those in more than 80 temporary sites for the displaced south of the city and over 50 more sites to the north, as well as those spread along the country's roads. Close to a quarter of a million people are in need of assistance.

 The next two months: a major relief operation  

Assistance is currently being ferried across the River Congo from Kinshasa to both northern and southern parts of Brazzaville several times a day. The ICRC fears that hostilities centred for the time being in Brazzaville might spread to other parts of the country, and is planning accordingly.

Implementing the plan of action is likely to be very costly given the difficult logistical constraints due to the precarious security situation. The institution is considering every possible means of transporting humanitarian emergency aid into the country and further inland, by river or otherwise. Two evaluations are currently being carried out: one on the use of an airport 300 km north of Brazzaville, with onward transportation by road, and the second on access from the south either by road, via a bridge or by air to Pointe-Noire, and then by road. A dozen trucks are to carry relief supplies to Brazzaville and along the main roads leading to the north and south of the country. The ICRC will provide a water and sanitation response, along with food supplies, cooking and shelter materials and hygiene items, for some 50,000 families (approximately 250,000 people).

 Personnel  

There are currently 13 expatriates, including four staff seconded from the National Societies of Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, working on the ICRC's operation in Congo-Brazzaville, as far as security conditions allow. A further five are based in Kinshasa specifically to provide logistical back-up to the Congo-Brazzaville operation.

For many years, for practical reasons concerning security, logistics, etc., the ICRC's Kinshasa delegation has been in charge of activities in Congo-Brazzaville, including with regard to budget and financial management. The expenses for the operation are expected to increase sharply, and may range from Sfr 5 to 8 million between now and the end of 1997. As soon as more precise information becomes available, an update will be issued to donors.

The ICRC thanks donors for their support and kindly requests that they forward cash contributions to this operation.