DR Congo

Crisis in Congo: World Vision begins relief efforts for thousands of displaced, calls on regional leaders to act

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Goma, Eastern DRC, November 6, 2008 - International relief agency World Vision has re-entered eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to begin assessing and serving the relief needs of tens of thousands of people displaced by the most recent outbreak of fighting in the area. At the same time, the agency continues to call on regional and global leaders to take actions that will protect civilians and address the root causes of the crisis.

World Vision plans to begin distributions today of family relief kits - including items like blankets, shelter materials, children's clothing and soap - to more than 10,000 families.

The agency plans to reach as many as 25,000 families as soon as security conditions allow, as well as address health, sanitation and protection needs. The agency's operations will concentrate in Shasha, Minova, Rutshuru and Goma. Preliminary information indicates an initial response plan budget of close to $3 million.

"We're in the midst of assessing suitable temporary settlement sites for people who are in urgent need of food and non-food items, shelter, water and sanitation," said World Vision aid worker Michelle Rice. "However, the challenge of security and access continues to make it difficult to determine the numbers and whereabouts of affected people," Rice continued.

World Vision's assessment team visited Shasha and Bulengo IDP camps yesterday, discovering inadequate shelter, ramant cases of rape against women, and acute need for food and other necessities. In Shasha, people were sheltering under dried banana leaves, which did little to keep them dry in the current rainy season. Women at Shasha reported being raped while collecting firewood in the nearby hills.

"We learned of one shocking case in which armed men raped three women from the same family - an elderly grandmother, her daughter, and her granddaughter," described Rice.

With tens of thousands of people moving between various camps and their homes, keeping track of displaced civilians and their precise needs is proving difficult for aid workers. Many of the recently displaced families were already living in temporary shelters before the latest outbreak of fighting.

"If the security situation remains stable, we expect to expand distributions this week," said Rice, "The current ceasefire must be held by all sides if we are to respond to the humanitarian crisis here. Without some semblance of stability, relief efforts are extremely difficult."

As African leaders meet in Nairobi tomorrow for an emergency summit, World Vision is calling for the following actions to be taken:

- That the summit attendees in Nairobi - in particular the governments of DRC and Rwanda - begin genuine negotiations toward a lasting solution of the crisis, including addressing the historical root causes that have perpetuated the conflict.

- That DRC's neighboring governments, in particular Rwanda and Zambia,keep their borders open to refugees fleeing the current fighting.

- That the international community recommit to financing a humanitarian response in eastern DRC commensurate with the needs, while strengthening weakened aid infrastructure and meeting the needs of newly displaced people.

- That all parties concerned immediately cease all hostilities and establish a humanitarian corridor to enable access by aid workers to those in need across North Kivu province.

- That the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC) prioritize the protection of civilians - particularly women and children, who make up more than half of the 1.2 million displaced people - and create a secure environment for aid workers to resume operations.

Donations are urgently needed. The public can help by visiting www.worldvision.org or calling 1.888.56.CHILD.