The fighting that has racked the Congolese province of North Kivu in recent days has forced tens of thousands of people to flee and left large numbers wounded. Olivier Martin, the ICRC's deputy head of delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), talks about the drastic consequences and how the ICRC is responding.
What is the humanitarian situation in North Kivu and the town of Goma?
The humanitarian situation is catastrophic, for the entire population of the region. Many people have had to abandon everything they owned to escape the fighting and even the most basic needs of the population are not being met.
According to our information, people from in and around Goma have fled to South Kivu. Others are said to have fled from the region of Rutshuru, heading northwards to Kanyabayonga, eastwards to Nyamilima and southwards to the displaced persons camps at Kibati, just outside Goma. Still others have fled to the camps at Mugunga, west of Goma, on the route towards Sake.
The situation in Goma was calmer last night than during the preceding nights. Looting was reported and firing was heard, but the situation seems to be less dramatic than it was on the night of 29 October, when Katindo military hospital was looted.
This relative calm has allowed the ICRC's Congolese staff to resume work. They are doing a remarkable job, as are the volunteers of the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who are working alongside our teams despite the fact that they themselves have been directly affected by the situation.
What do the people in the area need?
Our main preoccupation is the security of people who have been displaced, or who are trapped in the conflict zones. We remind all parties to the conflict that under international humanitarian law people who are not (or are no longer) participating in hostilities must be protected, and that looting is prohibited.
We are particularly worried about people in high-risk groups, such as women, the elderly and children. These people have nothing; no medical care, no water, no food and no shelter. To make matters worse, all these people packed into public places with no infrastructure or drinking water could trigger diseases and epidemics.
What we also have to remember is that these people are doubly vulnerable. Most of them had already been displaced in the last few months, and now they have lost everything all over again.
What is the ICRC doing?
Our top priority is emergency assistance for the injured and for displaced civilians.
Yesterday, we provided Goma's two biggest hospitals with medical materials, medicines and other supplies to treat the dozens of casualties they have admitted in recent days.
Today, our surgical team in Goma will carry out a number of operations at Katindo hospital.
One priority is to ensure that the displaced people have drinking water. Today we are going to be installing drinking water tanks for 10,000 displaced people in a camp at Kibati, near Goma.
A number of people have fled the region of Rutshuru in the direction of Kirumba to the north. These people have also been hard hit by the fighting, and an ICRC team will be going to the town of Beni, in the region of South Lubero, right up in the north of North Kivu province. The ICRC has the capacity to distribute food to some 20,000 people in this region for two weeks. We intend to deliver these supplies as soon as possible - in the coming days if the security situation allows.