Democratic Republic of the Congo: armed conflict puts enormous strain on civilians in North and South Kivu

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo celebrated 49 years of independence from Belgium on 30 June 2009. Conditions in North and South Kivu gave civilians no reason to celebrate.

The region remained volatile, with the armed conflict placing an enormous strain on civilians.

Crimes including rape, murder, looting and the destruction of homes and property were rife.

Tens of thousands abandoned their homes and fields in search of safety.

At the beginning of June, government forces in South Kivu launched a series of operations under the name “Kimia II” in an effort to flush out armed groups.

Many armed groups fought back, and the ensuing clashes created additional humanitarian needs.

Arms carriers ignored international humanitarian law and targeted civilians directly in all too many cases.

Psycho-social support The ICRC supports 33 counselling centres in the Kivus, known as “maisons d’écoute” or “listening houses.” These are places where traumatized victims of violence can obtain psycho-social support.

Trained psycho-social assistants provide psychological support and guidance for victims of conflict.

These community-based centres, run by local associations, also serve as hubs for opposing sexual violence.

During the months of July and August, the 16 ICRC-supported centres in North Kivu assisted 254 people.

In July, the 17 centres in South Kivu assisted 137 people.

The vast majority of beneficiaries were women who had suffered sexual violence.

The centres referred those in need of urgent medical attention to medical facilities.

Restoring family links The ICRC works with the Red Cross of the DRC to restore contact between people separated by the conflict, paying special attention to separated or unaccompanied children and to children discharged from the armed forces or armed groups.

Methods used include a vast network of Red Cross messengers, the distribution of photos and radio broadcasts.

In August, 21 children who had been separated from their families by conflict in North Kivu between November and December 2008 were located in the Ugandan cross-border refugee camp of Nakivale.

All of them were subsequently reunited with their families: 20 in Rutshuru territory and one in Goma.

Over the course of July and August, the ICRC reunited with their families 104 children who had become separated by conflict in North and South Kivu.

Of these children, 35 had been demobilized from armed forces or groups.

During the same period, the ICRC identified over 70 new cases.

An extensive network of Red Cross messengers throughout the Kivus exchange Red Cross messages (brief messages containing family news) between people separated by conflict.

Approximately 8,000 Red Cross messages were exchanged in the two Kivus during July and August.

Providing food, seed and other basic necessities The primary aim of ICRC assistance is to protect the lives and health of the victims of conflict, to ease their plight and to ensure that the consequences of conflict – disease, injury, hunger or exposure to the elements – do not jeopardize their future.

In the Kivus, the precarious security situation often makes it difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach those who need them.

In addition, the armed conflict causes indirect problems, by preventing people from working in their fields or getting their produce to markets.

On 11 July, a devastating fire hit the Birere quarter of Goma, the main town in the region.

The ICRC worked with the DRC Red Cross to provide essential household goods to 683 households.

Items included kitchen sets, mats, tarpaulins, soap, buckets, jerrycans and blankets.

In the territory of South Lubero, the ICRC distributed food to over 1,800 displaced people near Kamandi and to over 1,700 along the Bingi-Kasingiri axis.

The ICRC distributed essential household items to 5,250 people from five towns in the Moyens Plateaux de Katobo, South Kivu.

In the territory of Mwenga, South Kivu, the ICRC distributed food to almost 27,000 people in Mwenga, Kamituga, and Mungombe.

Between 17 and 28 August, the ICRC distributed essential household items and seed to both residents and displaced persons in the territory of Masisi.

The distributions took place along two axes – Miandja and Loashi-Niabiondo – and benefited a total of 8,600 households.

Medical support To counter the disruption of primary health-care services caused by the conflict, the ICRC provides direct assistance to existing health centres and district hospitals, with the active participation of the communities concerned wherever possible.

In July and August, the ICRC provided regular medical support to several hospitals in the Kivus: Hôpital Matanda in Butembo, Hôpital Général de Référence (HGR) Nyamilima, HGR Bunyakiri and HGR Lemera.

ICRC support took the form of: money to sustain the facilities (providing incentives for staff and covering operational costs) and to ensure that people had access to treatment; reimbursement of bills for the treatment of internally displaced persons and war wounded; provision of medicines and medical materials; support for medical training and for the quality control of medical care.

In August, ICRC engineers equipped the HGR Bunrakiri operating theatres (built in March/April 2009) with a solar-powered electricity system that can provide illumination around the clock.

The ICRC furnished regular assistance to 11 health centres, enabling them to provide medicines and medical materials, reimburse medical bills for internally displaced persons, make lump-sum payments for medical care and supervise the quality of health care.

In the ever-shifting environment of conflict-related needs, ad hoc medical assistance also plays a crucial role in assisting the neediest people.

Attacks around the mining towns of Bisie, Malembe and Omate, for example, resulted in an influx of war wounded seeking security and medical care in Walikale.

On 18 and 19 August, ICRC provided Walikale General Hospital with emergency medical supplies sufficient for 30 war-wounded patients and delivered emergency medical supplies sufficient for a total of 2,000 displaced persons to two health centres in Walikale.

Water The ICRC has endeavoured to ensure that victims of the conflict have water for drinking and domestic use.

Difficulty obtaining clean water is another indirect consequence of the ongoing hostilities in North and South Kivu.

The ICRC is currently renovating the water networks in Saké and Kitchanga (North Kivu).

The system supplies an estimated 45,000 people with safe drinking water at each location.

In Kibirizi (Rutshuru territory, North Kivu), the ICRC has continued the construction of public water points that will improve access to potable water for 31,500 people.

In July, working with the Bukavu (South Kivu) branch of the national water board (REGIDESO), the ICRC launched the construction of three springs that will provide some 83,000 people with safe drinking water by December 2009.

In response to an outbreak of cholera in Goma city, the ICRC started an emergency water-trucking project on 20 August.

This involved supplying more than 30,000 people in the worst affected areas with clean, chlorinated drinking water.

Volunteers from the Congolese Red Cross approached private water vendors, encouraging them to sell only chlorinated water.

Fifteen villages in the territory of Fizi, South Kivu, are benefiting from phase two of the ICRC’s drinking water capture system, which involves the renovation of 20 existing springs and the development of 16 new ones, improving daily life for almost 24,000 people.

For further information, please contact: 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

See also ICRC media contacts

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