Democratic Republic of the Congo: Situation still very precarious in east of country

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Situation still very precarious in east of country
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Situation still very precarious in east of country

GENEVA, Switzerland, June 21, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Over the past few weeks a very insecure atmosphere has descended upon the east of the country. At the same time, new political and military initiatives are taking form. The fate of thousands in conflict-stricken provinces hangs in the balance.

"There are reports of indiscriminate and very violent attacks on civilians, and of increasing strains between various communities," said Franz Rauchenstein, the outgoing head of the ICRC delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "After more than four years in this country, I regret to be leaving without having witnessed any improvement in terms of respect for the lives and dignity of civilians in conflict zones. On the contrary, acts of violence committed against civilians, including murder and sexual assault, remain at a very worrying level and regularly cause the displacement of thousands of families."

War surgery

Whenever surgeons and other doctors in the region have to treat people for complicated weapon-related injuries – a frequent occurrence – they must do so with very limited resources. Some 50 practitioners working in the main hospitals of North and South Kivu therefore attended a war-surgery seminar organized by the ICRC from 11 to 13 June in Bukavu, South Kivu. Various topics were covered, including wound ballistics, mass casualty management, hygiene and bandaging techniques, and physical rehabilitation for leg amputees.

For some younger doctors, the seminar provided an opportunity for exchanges with more experienced colleagues. "I have just learned techniques that I didn't know before, such as the new treatment protocol for fractures," said Dr Justin Bahati of the Rutshuru referral hospital in North Kivu province.

"I thought that to do great things you had to have great equipment," said Dr Achacha Frez of the Fizi referral general hospital in South Kivu. "But now I realise that even with limited resources I can handle war injuries and get the essential things done right."

Displacement in Walikale

Like people living in other places, residents of the Walikale territory of North Kivu have been hard hit by clashes between armed groups. There are more and more displaced people there. François (not his real name), who lives in Bunyampuri, explained: "When we flee the fighting we usually go to places where we have family or friends. They take us into their homes, and sometimes those who have land give us a spot to build on." To help displaced people and host families from the villages of Luvungi, Kembe and Bunyampuri, between Walikale and Goma, a market for household items was organized on the road from Walikale to Kibua. Zawadi (not her real name), from Pinga, was taken in by a cousin in Luvungi: "We lost everything as we moved around. Today we'll be able to get what we need to get back on our feet again and improve our living conditions a little." Families were given coupons they could use to buy goods of their choice such as mattresses, bicycles or kitchen utensils. Some 40 volunteers from the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were on hand to help out.

In Walikale Centre, the ICRC recently upgraded the water supply system in partnership with the water board and negotiated a reduction in the price of water. "Before, 40 litres cost 100 Congolese francs. Now we can buy 120 litres for 50 francs. We are no longer risking our lives getting water from the Lowa river, where several people drowned," said Anuarite (not her real name), a young mother living in the city.

First-aid post for migrants

Several tens of thousands of Congolese who had been working in Angola, mainly in the diamond mines or petty trade, recently returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo following the signature of a border agreement between the provinces of Western Kasai, in the Congo, and Lunda Norte, in Angola. The ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have geared up to provide aid for Congolese returning to their country. Most of the returnees use the border crossings at Kamako and Mayanda, small towns in the Tshikapa territory with few resources and limited infrastructure for accommodating the large numbers of people returning.

With ICRC support, Congolese Red Cross volunteers are now manning a first-aid post at the border in Kamako. "This is the first Congolese Red Cross post outside the provincial capital, Kananga," said Aaron, in charge of disaster management for the Red Cross in Western Kasai.

The first-aid post is fully equipped. Three teams of seven first-aid workers each work in rotation to provide around-the-clock service. Since the post was set up on 22 May, the volunteers have administered first aid to 40 people returning from Angola. Everyone receiving care is subsequently referred to medical facilities in the town of Kamako for treatment.

Stepping up humanitarian activities

Gaining access to people in need remains a daily challenge, mainly because of the security situation and very significant logistical constraints. At this difficult time, the ICRC is doing everything it can to maintain its presence in local communities while stepping up dialogue with armed forces, armed groups and community representatives. By approving a budget extension of 10 million Swiss francs in May, the ICRC has given itself the additional resources required to treat war casualties and to expand its activities, especially in Katanga province.

Over the past few weeks, the ICRC also:

● went to the Kamango area in North Kivu's Great North, near the border with Uganda, to provide rice, beans and sage oil for more than 6,000 people (displaced or hosting the displaced), including over 4,000 people, displaced out of fear caused by a wave of abductions in the area, who were also given such items as blankets, kitchen utensils, hygiene products and hoes. This was the first time the ICRC was able to distribute humanitarian aid in the difficult-to-reach area;

● built a network supplying clean drinking water, from the source to 23 fountains, for 15,000 inhabitants of 20 towns in the Ruzizi plain of South Kivu;

● started construction of a "maison d'écoute" (counselling centre) in Matutira, in the northernmost part of South Kivu, for victims of violence, especially sexual assault.