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Update No. 97/10 on ICRC activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire)

01-07-1997 Operational Update

More than six weeks after Kinshasa was taken over by forces of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), significant humanitarian problems persist in most of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the most part, these problems are related directly to the ongoing disturbances in Kivu province and to the fate of internally displaced people from Kivu and Rwandan refugees. The ICRC, in close cooperation with the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is continuing the activities it carried out throughout the conflict.

 Protection for detainees  

In spite of ongoing negotiations with the new authorities, ICRC delegates have not yet been granted access to detainees.

 Restoring family links  

Although the ADFL offensive is formally over, thousands of internally displaced are still far away from their villages of origin. In many cases, the Red Cross Message system is the only means of communication that enables separated families to exchange news. As a result, thousands of messages are collected and distributed every week. In the east of the country, efforts are ongoing in the towns of Goma, Bukavu and Uvira to locate both Rwandan and Zairian unaccompanied minors and to take the steps necessary to reunite them with their families. In Goma, 94 unaccompanied Zairian children were located, and 13 family reunifications carried out in one week alone.

Delegates have also been trying to persuade Congolese families looking after Rwandan children to hand them over to the ICRC. If the families agree, the children are transferred to Rwanda, where they are looked after by the local ICRC delegation.

Thanks to painstaking work, an average of five family reunifications is carried out every week. In their efforts to find children's families, delegates have started using unusual methods: in Bukavu, for example, information about unaccompanied children is now broadcast by a local radio station.

 Health activities  

Health needs throughout the country remain enormous. Special support continues to be given to medical structures in and around Uvira, Bukavu, Goma, Kindu, Kisangani and Mbandaka, where assistance is required most urgently. As a general rule, medical activities will concentrate on places where the ICRC has a subdelegation or office. For flexibility, short-term projects will be favoured.

In recent weeks, regular visits were carried out to hospitals and health centres in and around Kisangani, Bukavu and Uvira. Medical supplies and other materials, such as mattresses, were provided as necessary. Health advice, for example on hygiene, was given wherever medical delegates consider it appropriate.

A total of 14 urban and rural health centres in Kisangani was evaluated by an ICRC medical coordinator. On the basis of the assessment, a project will be launched together with the Belgian Red Cross. Meanwhile, in Mbandaka, delegates continued to rehabilitate the obstetric ward, provide health care for internally displaced people and follow up the treatment of war-wounded. Evaluations were also carried out in Boen de and Ikela, whose hospitals were stripped bare during the conflict. An assistance programme is being implemented.

In Kinshasa, war-wounded in five medical facilities were followed up by medical staff from the National Society. To improve medical care for children, paediatric kits were donated to seven health structures.

To assist hospitals treating war-wounded in Brazzaville, the capital of the neighbouring Republic of Congo-Brazzaville, more medical materials and medicines were brought in by ICRC or National Society staff travelling either by plane or dugout.

 Water and sanitation  

A total of six ICRC water and sanitation engineers are currently working in the country. In Bukavu, the ICRC came to the rescue last week after a landslide buried the town's only water supply pipe, leaving some 300,000 people without access to safe drinking water. The state water company, with the support of the ICRC, is currently repairing the damaged main pipe. Emergency work has been carried out on two smaller pipes, through which water will be supplied in the short term. The ICRC is financing transport and labour costs and providing various materials. Before the accident it had already been supplying fuel to power the treatment plant generator.

The inhabitants of the town of Isiro, north-east of Kisangani, had been without safe drinking water since early January. Starting on 2 June, however, the ICRC was able to restore the water supply: to put the local water treatment plant back into operation, delegates brought in 11 tonnes of aluminium sulphate, 3,400 litres of diesel fuel and spare parts for the water pumps. They also connected a provisional water reservoir to the supply network.

In Goma and Uvira the ICRC is supplying fuel for the generator poweri ng the towns'water treatment plants. An 18 m 3 water tanker was transferred from Rwanda to Bukavu to improve drinking water supplies for internally displaced people returning from Kalemie. On the Ruzizi plains, water and sanitation teams continued to construct septic tanks in numerous communes and to install the necessary pumping equipment. Water catchment work and latrine disinfection in Kisangani were pursued unchanged.

 Relief  

Food and non-food assistance continued to be provided to refugees from Brazzaville, who have sought shelter in Kinshasa. Some internally displaced people in Kisangani also received food relief. In addition, despite the situation in Brazzaville, further food assistance consisting of maize, beans, salt and oil was flown by Twin Otter plane to Lukolela, a town in the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville. The food was then transported to Liranga, a village to the north of Lukolela, which is currently home to some 5,900 Rwandan refugees.

The Kinshasa delegation also organized food assistance for war-wounded in Brazzaville. Maize, beans, salt and oil were taken to the strife-torn city by plane and boat, partly with the assistance of Congolese Red Cross staff.

In Mbandaka, food is provided for 200 refugees admitted to the local hospital, as well as to internally displaced people and unaccompanied minors awaiting transfer to Kisangani.

Lastly, following an assessment of the nutritional situation in the highland areas south of Bukavu and the region of Fizi, food and seed distributions are planned for an estimated 5,000 internally displaced people near Fizi and up to 10,000 internally displaced Babembe in the hills of Kaseka.

 Adjustment of ICRC operational structure  

When the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo started, the westward movement of the ADFL forces split the country into two parts. In order to maintain its operational effectiveness in ADFL-held areas, the ICRC established a mission in Bukavu, in the east of the country, in addition to the main delegation in Kinshasa. Now that the entire country has been taken over by the ADFL forces, the ICRC has adjusted its operational structure accordingly. The ICRC delegation, as well as all coordinators, most of whom were previously located in Kivu province, will be based in the capital Kinshasa. The towns in which the ICRC is present, namely Bukavu, Goma, Uvira, Kalemie, Lubumbashi, Kanangu, Kisangani and Mbandaka, will become sub-delegations or offices of Kinshasa. Congo-Brazzaville will remain a sub-delegation of Kinshasa until further notice.