Hopes have risen today with the announcement of a ceasefire by the rebel leader Laurence Nkunda whose forces have been approaching the eastern city of Goma. Tens of thousands of people have fled the fighting adding to the 850,000 internally displaced people that were already living in temporary camps in the conflict riven country.
Lulu Mitshabu, Caritas Australia's DR Congo Program Coordinator said, "the heavy fighting in North Kivu has intensified over the last 48 hours causing massive displacement of tens of thousands of people towards Goma, the provincial capital.
"Most of the fighting has concentrated around the town of Kibumba in the Rutshuru territory, from where about 40,000 people, many of whom were already displaced have fled northwards in the direction of Kanyabayonga. Others have fled from Rutshuru town and surrounding villages towards the Ugandan border.
"The effects of these recurrent displacements are devastating particularly for children and for women. Under such conditions, there is always the risk of cholera and disease outbreaks, and increased cases of malnutrition among children. If there's no reprieve in the fighting and displacements, the consequences will be life-threatening for the children and their families, said Ms Mitshabu.
"We are extremely troubled by the current situation. Caritas partners are severely affected by the influx of refugees, struggling to provide shelter, clean water and food as well as medical assistance".
"Looting and raping has been reported," says Ms Mitshabu in a region where a recent Caritas Australia report "Forsaken Voices: Desecration and plunder in the DRC" found that 1200 people were dying per month of severe poverty and more than 2000 women were raped in the month of June alone.
Caritas Australia has been supporting development programs in Congo, through local partners Caritas Congo and Caritas Goma, focusing on mitigating the impacts of HIV/AIDS, supporting survivors of sexual violence, medical assistance, trauma counselling and reintegration of child soldiers.
Caritas Australia today launched an appeal to assist a total of 15,000 vulnerable displaced families (around 90,000 people based on an average of 6 per household). This appeal will fund emergency non-food items to the affected to ensure that they regain their dignity and livelihoods.. To donate please call 1800 024 413 or GPO Box 9830 in your capital city, or donate online to the Africa Emergency Appeal.
For more information contact: Tim O'Connor 0417 284 831