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Fact sheet on ICRC activities in Goma

19-09-2001 Operational Update

1) Water and habitat

The ICRC's non-stop work to supply drinking water to people living in rebel-held territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

The ICRC's water and habitat unit (WATHAB) has two engineers working in territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo controlled by rebels. Their main mission is to ensure that the area's population has enough drinking water.

Given the vast territory that they have to cover, the two have divided it between themselves. Nicola Capuzzo, an Italian national, is responsible for the area north of Goma (where the ICRC's mission is based). This includes above all Kisangani which, with its half a million inhabitants, is the country's third largest city. René Saameli, who is Swiss, covers the area south of Goma. Since the roads are largely impassable, both spend a great deal of time in the ICRC-chartered DC-3 travelling from one big population centre to another.

The work carried out in rebel-held territory – building water tanks for hospitals, transporting purification chemicals, etc. – is often done in conjunction with Regideso, the national water-supply authority. On 15 August last, for example, the ICRC opened a water-purification plant in Darma, on the left bank of the Congo, near Kisangani. This project, designed to supply drinking water to people living on the river’s left bank, saw Regideso carrying out work financed by the ICRC. It was one in a long series of aid projects launched to provide drinking water to Kisangani. The projects are having considerable impact since Kisangani is the economic centre of that region of the country. At the opening ceremony in Darma, Nicola Capuzzo, the project's head, stressed the close cooperation that exists between Regideso and the ICRC. "We have been working since 1999 to secure the spring water that supplies this plant", he told his audience, which included the governor of the province and the mayor of Kisangani. "When we started, only 14 springs were still being exploited, the station was closed, and people living on the left bank no longer had access to drinking water."

ICRC support has made it possible to renovate the building housing the Darma station and to purchase the electro-mechanical equipment needed for it to function properly. Since early 2001, the ICRC has also overhauled the sand filters in Kisangani's two main water-purification stations (Tshopo I and II). The organization has also flown in chemicals needed to purify water in the isolated city (Kisangani being cut off from the outside world by the war and the lack of roads). The ICRC-chartered aircraft thus represents a link to the outside, and the engineer's work enables the residents to have enough drinking water despite the conflict. In all, two million people living in the rebel-held area now have clean water to drink thanks to the ICRC projects.

The ICRC has delivered 160 tons of chemicals (aluminum sulfate, chlorine and slaked lime) for water treatment in 14 stations. These stations are located in the large urban centres of North and South Kivu and in Orientale, Katanga and Maniema provinces. The organization has also distributed spare parts and repair kits.

Finally, WATHAB teams composed of engineers and technicians have been working to ensure adequate supplies of drinking water to hospitals and other health-care facilities and have carried out sanitation work in several prisons in rebel-held territory.

Those same teams are currently assessing the water needs of people living closer to the front lines.

2) Relief

ICRC aiding 15,000 Kantaga Congolese

In June 2001, the arrival of a Hercules transport aircraft chartered by the ICRC was greeted with joy by some 15,000 inhabitants of Nyunzu, in northern Katanga. The town has been virtually cut off from the outside world by a series of attacks by unidentified militias, and security conditions for the inhabitants are very poor.

ICRC aid work in the area is intended to revive agriculture and the local economy. Food (320 tons of maize flower, beans, vegetable oil and salt), plastic buckets, clothes and soap have been distributed to Nyunzu’s inhabitants. People are pleased to receive this aid directly from the ICRC, without having to go through intermediaries, as is usually the case.

A similar programme was carried out in the spring of 2001 in Masisi, in North Kivu, and in Walungu and Burhinyi, in South Kivu, in which some 15,500families each received five kilos of maize seed and 10 kilos of bean and gardened-vegetable seed (cabbage, carrots and edible herbs) and hoes.

In Burhinyi, where the situation was still more alarming, the seed distributions were supplemented by food (maize flower, beans, vegetable oil and salt) in order to prevent people from having to eat the seeds themselves.

The ICRC organizes regular training and follow-up session for farmers who, as members of local NGOs, actually produce the seed. The purpose is to improve quality and ensure future supplies.

3) Medical assistance

The ICRC's medical work in the area is mainly aimed at supporting hospitals and other health-care facilities that admit people wounded by the fighting.

In the first half of 2001, the ICRC provided medicines and other supplies to enable over 400 wounded people to be treated at hospitals in Uvira, Kalemie or Kisangani.

In order to make hospital care more effective, the ICRC has launched a programme of training in war surgery for doctors in the three cities. The programme consists mainly in Congolese doctors assisting ICRC surgeons in actual operations. This is then supplemented by training seminars for the doctors as well as students and professors of medicine.

With a view to solving supply problems and limiting the harmful affects of the counterfeit medication currently flooding the market, the ICRC is supplying essential medicines to health-care centres. Fourteen facilities covering a population of 146,000people benefit from that aid.

In order to prevent disease, the ICRC's health-care service is working together with the WATHAB service to provide clean drinking water to the population and thus prevent diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. In Kisangani, for example, the organization has sunk wells equipped with hand pumps and has set up a water tower next to the maternity unit.

4) Tracing

Children enabled to find their lost loved ones

On 23 March last, 12-year-old Adimpe and her little brothers and sisters Emmanuel, Didy and Kilita were reunited with their mother thanks to tracing work carried out by ICRC delegates. The four were among a group of 38 children flown in an ICRC-chartered Boeing 737 from Kinshasa to Goma.

This happy event is an example of the work done by the ICRC's tracing service to reunite families torn apart by war. Over 100volunteers work in 61offices run by the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to identify and register children separated from their families. At the moment, 274young Congolese – 59 of whom have been located in Zambia and 124 in Tanzania – are waiting to be reunited with their loved ones.

Local Red Cross offices also collect and distribute Red Cross messages, a means of communication available to the population even when other channels have broken down. Red Cross messages allow people living in isolated places and separated from their relatives to exchange news of a personal nature (births, marriages, sickness, deaths, etc.). In all, 77,000 such messages have been forwarded through the network set up in the various zones of this vast region: within rebel-held territory itself; between the eastern and western parts of the country; across the front lines; and between eastern Congo and neighbouring countries where some Congolese citizens have sought refuge.

Restoring contact with relatives and bringing together separated families is an activity also conducted for child soldiers identified in the ranks of the army of the Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie (a coalition of opposition groups). After obtaining from the army’s headquarters demobilization orders for 34 minors, the ICRC reunited those children with their families in Lusambo, in Kasaï Orientale province, Kindu, in Maniema province, Rutshuru, in North Kivu province, and Kisangani.

A third operation to transfer unaccompanied children directly between rebel-held and government-held territory was carried out in September. In all, 70 children were involved. On 4 September, 27 children were transferred from Goma to Kinshasa and 10 others from Kinshasa to Goma. On 11 September, 17children were transferred from Goma to Lubumbashi. A further trip in the opposite direction is scheduled.

5) Cooperation

The ICRC plays a vital role in organizing training and advanced training. For example, first-aid courses were held in March: one for 50 participants from Walikale, in North Kivu; one for 86 participants in Lusambo, in Kasaï Orientale; and one for 49 participants in Walungu, in South Kivu.

Fifty first-aid workers from Goma took part in an advanced course in January. Surveys to assess Red Cross activities and the impact of previous training were organized in Bweremana and Rutshuru, both in northern Kivu, Lodja, in Kasaï, Burhinyi, in southern Kivu, and Kindu, in Namiema. Emergency kits have also been distributed to the Red Cross branches in Walikale and Goma for the disinfection of buildings housing cholera victims.

In addition, disinfectant and a substantial supply of body bags, blankets, etc. were handed over to the local Red Cross in northern Kivu after the boat Musaka sunk in Goma port.

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