DR Congo

ACT Alert DR Congo 44/2008: ACT response to North Kivu conflict and displacement

News and Press Release
Originally published
Geneva, 3 November 2008

1. Brief description of the emergency

In January 2008, the international community succeeded in bringing the different armed groups in eastern DRC together to agree on a cease fire and to engage in a peace process called "AMANI". However, cease fire violations have been commonplace since the signing of the Goma agreement in January. On 28 August full-fledged fighting broke out in Masisi between Government forces and Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), and spread to the neighbouring Rutshuru region. An estimated 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting intensified in August. The Geneva office of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reports that between 1.4 million and 2 million people are displaced in North Kivu, which includes those uprooted from earlier waves of fighting since 2007.

On 26 October, CNDP took control of an important military base of Rumangabo and of the Virunga national park headquarters. These events launched a major crisis with the heaviest fighting of the year between government forces and the CNDP. Heavy artillery fighting advanced to the outskirts of Goma on 29 October, driving tens of thousands of people from their homes and creating a generalised panic among the population of Goma. Among others, 20,000 previously displaced people had to leave the Kibumba IDP camp to flee again as armed groups hampered their safe haven. Part of the population of Goma fled the town in fear of rebel invasion of the provincial capital. In addition to those displaced within the national borders, thousands have reportedly fled to other countries including Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. As uncontrolled elements of armed groups fled from the battlefront through Goma on 29 October, there were reports of looting, killing and raping of civilians in the town.

IDP camps around the now CNDP-controlled Rutshuru area have reportedly been looted and destroyed. The 34,000 IDPs that previously occupied these camps have been dispersed to areas where they are even more difficult for humanitarian actors to reach. Instead of settling in camps, schools and churches, people are currently hiding in host families in fear of retaliation against "visible" IDPs.

2. Impact of the emergency in the proposed area of intervention

The areas that have been most affected by the presence of displaced people in the past two months include Kibati, Kibumba, Kanyabayonga, Kayina and Kirumba, accommodating IDPs from the Rutshuru area; and Sake, Minova and Kalehe accommodating IDPs from Masisi. Hardly any assistance has been delivered to the IDPs displaced by last week's fighting, resulting in an appalling humanitarian situation.

In the absence of humanitarian access, IDPs have spent their nights on bare ground under open sky for a week, without food, shelter, medical and material assistance. In the height of the rainy season, the risk of cholera epidemics, malaria and respiratory diseases are heightened in addition to a hunger crisis that is threatening the displaced populations. Local health centers have been looted, and are therefore unable to respond to the needs of both displaced people and host communities. Some IDPs that camped around Goma for nearly a week with no assistance have had no choice but to start returning to their home villages, where they find their property looted and destroyed. In addition to immediate assistance in food and non-food items (NFIs), water and sanitation supply and medical care, the people and areas affected by the recent fighting will need assistance in agricultural inputs to prevent a food security and malnutrition crisis in the near future. The already meager resources of the host populations in more stable areas have also been depleted by the frequent and massive movements of IDPs.

3. Humanitarian response so far

Since a cease fire was declared on 29 October, a fragile calm has returned to Goma and its outskirts. However, due to high insecurity, all humanitarian organisations were forced to cease all of their Goma-based operations in the surrounding districts for nearly a week. Although the first missions of humanitarian aid have been taken up in the past few days, humanitarian access to the areas affected by the recent fighting remains extremely limited. Negotiations for opening humanitarian corridors have taken place during the weekend, and as of today aid agencies hope to take up urgent assessment and assistance missions to more than 50,000 displaced people that have been blocked behind rebel lines for a week.

The first interventions have concentrated on water supply, small-scale food and NFI assistance, and supply of medicine to the looted medical facilities of the area.

4. ACT member response

Despite the lack of humanitarian access, several ACT members have been able to deliver some initial assistance. Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) distributed a 14-day food ration along with NFIs to 150 households on 27 October at the Sasha IDP camp. Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has been running a therapeutic feeding centre, which has continued throughout the fighting at a reduced level. The centre presently assists 90 children, but the capacity may soon be exceeded as more children arrive. Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) was able to supply a stock of medicine for a health centre previously constructed by NCA in the Minova area.

5. Planned activities

The ACT forum of eastern DRC gathered in a meeting on 3 November as soon as the town of Goma was declared safe, and negotiations by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for humanitarian access to the affected areas were under way. ACT members will take up assessment missions to four areas affected by the recent fighting from 4 to 5 November. The areas to be covered by the assessment are: 1) Goma town and its surroundings, 2) Goma-Rutshuru axis, 3) Goma-Minova axis, and 4) Kayna/Kanyabayonga area. In addition to material needs (food, NFIs, water, sanitation and shelter), particular attention will be paid to the needs for psychosocial and protection support within affected populations. Each assessment team will include multisectoral expertise. Based on the findings of the assessment missions, a preliminary ACT appeal will be drafted by 10 November and sent to the ACT Coordinating Office.

The following ACT members participated in the 3 November ACT forum meeting and contributed to this alert: Church of Christ in Congo (ECC), Ecumenical Office for Support to Development (BOAD), Evangelical Lutheran Church of Congo (ELCO), Christian Aid, Swiss Interchurch Aid (HEKS/EPER), FinnChurchAid (FCA), Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Norwegian Church Aid (NCA). DanChurchAid (DCA) is also present in the region and willing to provide assistance.

Any funding indication or pledge should be communicated to Jessie Kgoroeadira, ACT Finance Officer (jkg@act-intl.org).

Thank you for your attention. For further information please contact:

Robert White, ACT Deputy Director
rwh@act-intl.org, office: +41 22 791 6047, mobile: +41 79 857 5334
Sidney Traynham, ACT Assistant Communications Officer
sjt@act-intl.org, office: +41 22 791 6711, mobile: +41 79 681 1868