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Democratic Republic of the Congo: mounting concern as civilians' plight worsens

08-07-2009 Operational Update

Since May, there has been a deterioration in security conditions and in the humanitarian situation of thousands of civilians in the provinces of North and South Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  ©ICRC/P. Yazdi/cd-e-01047    
  Buhimba, west of Goma. A woman with an orphaned child at a camp for diplaced people.    

Numerous crimes against civilians, including rapes, murders, and the looting and destruction of homes, which are forcing tens of thousands of people to flee, continue to be reported. In the territories of Lubero (southern part), Walikale, Rutshuru and Masisi, the situation remains worrying. It is estimated that in North Kivu, since the beginning of the year, over 300,000 people have been displaced by the consequences of the armed conflict and by the violence they have been subjected to on the part of weapon bearers.

According to a recent independent survey carried out for the ICRC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 76% of the population has been affected in some way by the armed conflict, 58% have been displaced, 47% have lost a close relative and 28% know someone who has fallen victim to sexual violence.

While the effects of the armed conflict have been less felt in South Kivu than in North Kivu, security problems have also increased in the South, where more than 100,000 people, feeling more and more threatened and fearing they might find themselves trapped by the advancing conflict, have reportedly fled their homes over the past three months in search of shelter and protection. The territories of Shabunda, Kalehe, Mwenga and Walungu have been the hardest hit by the deterioration in security conditions, which has had an especially severe effect on civilians.

In this setting where protection for civilians is completely lacking, and where they are being directly targeted with increasing frequency, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are engaged in confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict to ensure acc ess to the people concerned. In addition, they are providing displaced people and area residents with food aid and emergency medical help through existing health-care centres, improving people's access to drinking water, and tracing relatives from whom people have been separated because of the conflict.

 Protecting civilians and promoting international humanitarian law  

ICRC delegates take note of violations of international humanitarian law allegedly occurring in the field and strive to better understand the difficulties facing the civilian population. The ICRC gathers evidence – which it keeps anonymous – enabling it to present allegations of violations to the parties to the conflict and to heighten their awareness of humanitarian law.

Activities aiming to assist the victims of such violations continue unabated, in particular through programmes for victims of sexual assault.

The ICRC maintains bilateral contacts with the warring parties in order to remind them of their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular those having to do with the protection of and respect for the civilian population.

In May and June, around 110 weapon bearers and over 200 representatives of civil society and the local authorities took part in information sessions on the basic rules of international humanitarian law.

 Restoring family links  

ICRC and RDC Red Cross staff are carrying on their work in behalf of people separated from one another by the situations of armed conflict. They are devoting special attention to unaccompanied children, particularly children discharged from the armed forces or armed groups.

The ICRC continues to monitor the cases of 697 fam ilies. A total of 216 of these cases involve children who left the armed forces or armed groups.

In May and June, the ICRC and the RDC Red Cross reunited 17 families in the two Kivu provinces. Unfortunately, however, the need for tracing services is enormous: 43 new tracing requests were received throughout the country during the same period.

 Providing food and other basic necessities  

● In Rumangabo, Kabaya, Gisiza and Bushenge, and in Kisagari (Rutshuru), 25,055 returnees were given food and soap.

● On the Burhambia-Kikuvo-Kamandi-Vuhoyo route and between Luofu and Miriki, over 35,000 people were given food and household items, as were 134 recently displaced families in Butalongola.

● In support of household vegetable gardening, ICRC staff continued assessments with three associations in Nyamilima engaged in market gardening to which the ICRC and the RDC Red Cross give seed and agricultural equipment. In Kiseguro-Katwiguru-Kisharu some 7,000 households were given vegetable seed and tools.

● In North Kivu, the RDC Red Cross distributed household items to 227 families displaced from Walikale and Masisi because of the lack of security there.

 Providing water and sanitation services  

● The ICRC continued to upgrade the Sake water network, which serves nearly 43,000 people. It also pressed ahead with the construction of a water supply system in Kitshanga that will provide better access to drinking water for almost 45,000 people.

● In Kibirizi, the ICRC is in the process of improving the drinking water system serving 31,500 inhabitants. It contributed to the fight against a cholera epidemic that ravaged the city in May by quickly delivering water and by disinfecting high-risk areas in cooperation with local volunteers of the RDC Red Cross.

● ICRC staff and Red Cross volunteers carried on distributing drinking water to 32,000 displaced people in Kitshanga and to 16,000 in Vitshumbi.

● In cooperation with Regideso, the national water board, the ICRC presented the results of a study of the development of the Goma hydraulic network to the authorities and to humanitarian organizations. The goal was to enable the various partners to adopt a comprehensive approach to connecting the city's 600,000 inhabitants to the water distribution system by 2015.

● In May, the ICRC built a well with three hand pumps for 2,500 inhabitants of the city of Kanyabayonga, which is situated in the conflict-afflicted area where there are many displaced people.

● A new drinking water supply system serving 15,000 people was inaugurated in the villages of Bulambo and Mumole.

● A new drinking water system was also installed in the village of Mwenga, which has 13,800 inhabitants.

● The drinking water network in Ciriba, serving 6,700 people, was upgraded.


For further information, please contact:
  Inah Kaloga, ICRC Kinshasa, tel: +243 81 700 85 36
  Kerstan Cohen, ICRC Goma, tel: +243 81 036 68 12
  Anna Schaaf, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 22 71 or +41 79 217 32 17


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