DR Congo

DRC: World Vision calls on leaders to act

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By World Vision staff

As the presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and neighbouring Rwanda attend an emergency meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, World Vision continues to call on regional and global leaders to take action to protect civilians and address the root causes of the crisis in the DRC.

The agency has re-entered eastern 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.

On Thursday, World Vision began distributing 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. Operations will concentrate in Shasha, Minova, Rutshuru and Goma.

Security and access

"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 worker Michelle Rice.

"However, the challenge of security and access continues to make it difficult to determine the numbers and whereabouts of affected people."

World Vision's assessment team visited Shasha and Bulengo temporary camps for displaced people on 5 November, discovering inadequate shelter, rampant 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.

Displaced several times

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."

Calls on leaders

As African leaders hold an emergency meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on 7 November, World Vision calls 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 neighbouring 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) prioritise 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.

Ten years of conflict

Prior to the most recent escalation of violence in eastern DRC, World Vision was implementing relief and recovery-focused programmes covering child protection, water and sanitation, nutrition and supplementary feeding, food security, agriculture, HIV and AIDS, and school rehabilitation.

The current fighting is affecting more than 250,000 people. Some 50,000 have been displaced in the past week alone, adding to the 1.4 million who were already displaced by the decade-long conflict.