Democratic Republic of the Congo: 'protection is what these people need'
Increasing attacks on civilians by weapons bearers are forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in North and South Kivu. Outgoing head of delegation Max Hadorn describes a 'chronically deteriorating humanitarian situation' and the ICRC's response to the crisis.
What is the current humanitarian situation in the provinces of North and South Kivu?
The survival of hundreds of thousands of civilians is seriously at risk. The situation in North Kivu has been deteriorating in recent months, in such areas as South Lubero, Walikale, Rutshuru and Masisi.
Since the beginning of the year, an estimated 300,000 people have been displaced in North Kivu, fleeing violence and attacks from all arms carriers. The situation in South Kivu has also worsened considerably. The recent increase in sexual violence in that province indicates that attacks on civilians by weapons bearers have increased.
Very serious violations of international humanitarian law occur every day, and all parties to the conflict are involved. Violations include killing, sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and looting.
According to a recent independent survey carried out for the ICRC, armed conflict has affected 76% of the population, 58% have been displaced, 47% have lost a close relative and 28% know someone who has fallen victim to sexual violence. The figure for displaced persons and for the population affected by conflict are the highest of the eight countries covered in the survey.
The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been responsible for the largest number of victims of any conflict since the Second World War. The UN estimates that more than 1.5 million people have been displaced across the country, which is indicative of a highly alarming, chronically deteriorating humanitarian situation. Many people have been displaced again and again. They have lost everything and they have no idea what tomorrow will bring. The situation is unbearable.
What is the ICRC doing?
The basic needs of the population are food, water, shelter, medical treatment and, above all, protection and security.
The ICRC, together with the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is stepping up its emergency assistance to the populations affected. For example , this week the ICRC is distributing food and essential household items to residents and displaced people in Miriki (North Kivu), a village situated approximately 150 km north of Goma. Homes in Miriki were burnt to the ground at the end of June, leaving residents with little or no shelter. It is too dangerous for the villagers to work their fields, which means that the community has no means of growing food. The situation in Miriki illustrates the increasing tendency for civilians to be the direct targets of armed groups, rather than just suffering collateral damage during hostilities.
ICRC emergency assistance to people directly affected by the conflict includes food, shelter, support for medical facilities and psychosocial support for the victims of sexual violence. In May and June, for example, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the DRC distributed food to more than 61,000 civilians.
How do you see the situation evolving in the DRC in the coming months?
As I mentioned, we are dealing with a chronically deteriorating humanitarian situation. All the evidence points to an increase in direct attacks on civilians. The need for humanitarian assistance will remain very significant and could even increase. There is also a growing need for us to gain access to more remote populations that are increasingly being affected by the violence. But what the population in the Kivu provinces needs right now is security. Nothing is more important.
What longer-term support is the ICRC offering?
The ICRC helps communities and authorities to deal with the consequences of armed conflict through the restoration of family links, agricultural projects and water and sanitation activities.
We are supporting both d isplaced people who want to return to their homes and the host communities where displaced people are staying, by providing seed, tools and shelter. In May and June, about 42,000 people in North Kivu received seed and farming implements from the ICRC.
The organization is making a particular effort to visit people held in connection with the armed conflict in the east of the RDC, and during 2008 we visited more than 9,000 detainees in 32 places of detention across the country.
The dialogue that the ICRC maintains with all parties to the conflict is of the utmost importance. We use that dialogue to sensitize the parties to violations of IHL observed by ICRC teams in the field and to ensure access to people in dire need of assistance. I believe our dialogue with all arms carriers has an impact, and that's what keeps us going.