In late August, a new round of fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo erupted between government forces and a rebel group known as the National Congress for the Defense of People, or CNDP, led by Laurent Nkunda. Since then, about 250,000 people have fled their homes-swelling the ranks of displaced Congolese in the eastern provinces to more than 1.25 million.
Thousands more abandoned their villages and the temporary camps in which some were sheltering when fighting intensified in late October around Goma, the capital city of North Kivu Province directly across the border from Rwanda. The violence culminated in an armed stand-off outside the city on Oct. 29, and CNDP's call for a ceasefire. By November 7, that ceasefire was no longer holding.
The crisis has left the longer-term peace process-and a January ceasefire between the government and 22 armed groups-in shambles. The CNDP has claimed that the January peace agreement, which had been violated numerous times, favored the Congolese government and its forces.
The latest fighting follows more than a decade of conflict in the eastern provinces and stems back to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. But many other factors contribute to the ongoing violence as well: weak state authority, the illegal exploitation of Congo's vast natural resources, and the free flow of arms across porous borders.
The result is disaster for the Congolese caught in the crossfire and suffering from the deprivation constant conflict brings. Humanitarian needs are escalating: The fighting forced some aid groups to suspend their operations, preventing life-saving help from reaching those who needed it. Since 1998, an estimated 5.4 million people have lost their lives to the conflict and the hunger and disease it unleashes.
Oxfam Provides More Help
In early November, Oxfam was already helping about 85,000 people, including 65,000 camped in four temporary settlements around Goma. The organization planned to help an additional 100,000 people in areas to the north and west of the city. Assistance has included the provision of clean water and sanitation services-essential in preventing the spread of waterborne diseases-- to those in the four camps. Oxfam has also been trucking water to 20,000 people in Kanyabayonga north of Goma.
Oxfam is calling for:
- The UN secretary general to appoint a high-level envoy to travel to the region with the power to bring all parties involved to the negotiating table to agree on a lasting peace deal and to address the underlying causes of the conflict.
- Additional military support for the UN peacekeeping force, known as MONUC, so that it can respond effectively to the targeted killing of civilians, mass rape, and systematic looting by armed groups.
- Practical steps to improve the performance of MONUC-the largest peacekeeping force in the world-as it strives to protect civilians.