"Women and girls are in urgent need of protection as fighting continues in North Kivu," Bob Kitchen, International Rescue Committee (IRC) country director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said today.
"Vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse in a highly unstable environment where armed groups roam with impunity, women and girls are particularly at risk of harm when they have to leave camps or population centres to collect firewood for cooking," he added.
Today the IRC begins a distribution of one week's supply of firewood to 15,000 families (75,000 people) in the Kibati IDP camp, close to the National Park region of North Kivu, an area which has seen much of the recent combat and that is still very insecure and facing very high protection risks.
Rape as a weapon of war has tragically become part of daily life in this highly volatile region of eastern Congo with perpetrators not restricted to any one of the warring factions. As the fighting has escalated so too has the danger as more armed groups patrol the forests.
Food deliveries are beginning to reach the area but if there is no fuel the women must, in spite of the danger, go out into the forests looking for firewood in order to cook for their families and keep them warm in this season of heavy rain and cool nights.
Rape, often gang rape, is an all too common occurrence across the region, and harvesting firewood in the forest, away from the security of the camp, makes women terrifyingly easy targets.