DR Congo: humanitarian situation deteriorates in the Kivus

25-05-2012 Operational Update No 01/12

Violence is continuing in the Kivus, where it is spreading to the most remote and difficult-to-reach areas, with tragic consequences. The ICRC is concerned about the rising number of civilian victims. It is calling on all parties to the conflict to spare the civilian population. See below video interview with Frédéric Boyer, head of the ICRC's sub-delegation in North Kivu.

As clashes continue near the border in the eastern part of North Kivu, fighting has been escalating in the Walungu, Shabunda and Kalehe territories of South Kivu, and more recently in the Walikale and Masisi territories of North Kivu, causing many deaths and injuries and much displacement.

"Most of the victims are civilians, some of whom are very young children, elderly people or women. The fighting has forced the inhabitants of entire villages to flee, worsening an already precarious situation. It is essential that people not taking part in the hostilities be spared," said Laetitia Courtois, the head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Bukavu, South Kivu. "The fighting often takes place in very remote areas, making it difficult for us to reach the victims. Our dialogue with all parties to the conflict is continuing so that we will be able to bring aid to the people who need it."

ICRC staff are maintaining or enhancing bilateral and confidential dialogue with armed forces and groups in the territories concerned to ensure that the civilian population is respected and protected and that the evacuation of the wounded and the sick can go ahead without impediment.


Interview with Frédéric Boyer, head of the ICRC's sub-delegation in North Kivu.


Difficulties facing health-care services

Fighting sometimes takes place in rural areas where roads are bad or do not exist at all, which makes it difficult for people requiring health services to obtain suitable care. "Some injured people had to be carried for hours on foot by villagers to reach health-care centres, where supplies were often already running short because of a sudden rise in needs," said Ms Courtois. To deal with the shortages, the ICRC is providing rural health-care centres with medicines, equipment and bandages and dressing materials. It is also transferring the most seriously injured people to hospitals in Bukavu and Goma, where it covers their expenses and checks on them daily.

Despite these efforts, major needs persist – in particular, long-term care for the victims. "At the beginning of January, a woman witnessed the killing of five children before being attacked herself with a knife," said Ms Courtois. "She was taken first to the nearest health-care centre before the ICRC transferred her to a more appropriate facility." After two months of intensive care, monitoring by ICRC medical staff and constant support from volunteers of the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she recovered from the most serious physical wounds she suffered. She is now able to walk again and will soon be reunited with other members of her family thanks to ICRC and Congolese Red Cross tracing efforts.

Child war victims

Because of the fighting, many children, including some who are very young, have been separated from their close relatives. In many cases, their parents were killed, and the children were taken in spontaneously by neighbours as they fled. Other family members are almost always in areas where fighting is taking place. Many of the children are severely traumatized. Some witnessed acts of violence in their villages or even the killing of loved ones. Others were physically wounded after being attacked.

In addition to searching door-to-door for the children's relatives, ICRC and Congolese Red Cross staff try to find people using photographs and local radio stations. Children separated from their families are systematically photographed when they are registered, and their pictures are displayed in temporary accommodation centres in South Kivu. Thanks to this system and to regular radio bulletins, more than 15 children were quickly reunited with family members.

To help families cope with the loss of a loved one, local Congolese Red Cross chapters take quick action whenever possible to help communities bury dead bodies and search for those who have gone missing. ICRC psychological counselling staff provide support for the volunteers involved in this difficult work by holding psychological "first aid" sessions. Similar support is provided for the communities concerned by means of a local radio station, which broadcasts discussions with local counselling assistants of the consequences of violence. The programme will run every day for two weeks in the Kamananga and Bunyakiri areas.

Situation in eastern North Kivu, Uganda and Rwanda

Since the beginning of May, over 60 casualties of the fighting in the Masisi and Rutshuru territories have been evacuated by the ICRC and the Congolese Red Cross. In Masisi, the ICRC is currently distributing aid in Kaanja to 19,500 victims of the recent violence.

On the other side of the border, in Uganda and Rwanda, the ICRC and the national Red Cross societies are cooperating in an effort to meet the needs of Congolese refugees.

In Rwanda, where more than 8,700 Congolese refugees – mostly women and children – have arrived since 28 April last, the Rwandan Red Cross and the ICRC made telephones available to 132 people to enable them to speak with members of their families still in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This service, used for the first time in Rwanda, makes it possible to overcome the lack of access to the areas where the refugees come from – a lack of access that prevents the distribution of Red Cross messages and active searching for adults or children by the ICRC or the Congolese Red Cross. Over 40 children separated from their families have been registered in the Nkamira transit camp; the search for their families will begin as soon as possible.

More than 14,000 refugees, mostly women and children, have arrived in western Uganda since the fighting began. In the past fortnight, the ICRC and the Uganda Red Cross Society have enabled over 600 people at the refugee reception centre in Nyakabande and at the new refugee settlement of Rwamwanja to contact their families using a telephone service set up last February. In addition, around 30 unaccompanied children have been registered in the past two weeks.

Since the beginning of the year, in violence-stricken areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the ICRC has:

  • evacuated 127 war-wounded patients and attended to the needs of 156 new casualties in five hospitals. The ICRC provides regular support for three hospitals in North and South Kivu that have seen more than 3,200 patients, including expectant mothers, performed nearly 570 operations and counted over 2,000 hospital admissions. During the same period, the other ICRC-supported health-care facilities in the Kivus have seen more than 23,000 patients seeking curative care;
  • provided support for more than 40 counselling centres (maisons d'écoute) offering psychological help for victims of acts of violence, especially sexual violence;
  • provided training in first aid and information on international humanitarian law for weapon bearers in North Kivu;
  • made available physical rehabilitation services for more than 125 civilian and military war-wounded patients, and manufactured and/or distributed 51 artificial limbs, six orthotic devices, 100 pairs of crutches and two tricycles;
  • registered, together with Congolese Red Cross volunteers, 116 unaccompanied children and 86 children formerly in the armed forces or armed groups. The ICRC reunited 63 unaccompanied children and 74 children formerly in the armed forces or armed groups with their families after the families were located in the Kivus. The children were returned to their families with a set of clothing, sheets, mosquito nets and food;
  • made a community kitchen in Lwizi available for 10 days to some 60 people fleeing the violence in Iregabaroni, and distributed aid to more than 3,250 people in addition to carrying out other aid activities for displaced people and host communities in South Kivu. The ICRC also distributed household essentials to more than 6,400 returnees between Byombi and Chabene, in Shabunda territory, and to more than 7,900 people in Ramba, in Kalehe territory.

For further information, please contact:
Krista Armstrong, ICRC Kinshasa, tel: +243 81 700 85 36
Marie-Servane Desjonquères, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 536 92 58