This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is working with local authorities and partners to immediately assist some 80,000 people affected by heavy floods in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Significant rainfall in South Kivu’s Uvira town and its surroundings between last Thursday and Saturday, led to heavy floods hitting densely populated areas of the town and surrounding villages that are hosting displaced people – including refugees.
Floodwaters have damaged more than 15,000 homes. With a full-scale assessment underway by authorities and humanitarians, reports of more devastation are still coming in from this region, already the hardest hit by years of insecurity and conflict.
The developing situation will compound the fears of the residents who are bracing to face another enemy on the horizon – the coronavirus pandemic.
Initial reports suggest more than 25 people have died because of the floods and more than 40 injured with fears of many others swept away by the flood waters. A health clinic in one of Uvira’s poorer neighbourhoods was destroyed and water and sanitation facilities in the overcrowded town were also damaged
UNHCR is rushing initial supplies of relief items from its local warehouse in Uvira, including badly needed tarpaulins to provide immediate shelter, as well as mats, kitchen sets, buckets and mosquito nets.
We will be providing more shelter kits in the coming days to help alleviate the suffering of some of the people whose homes have been swept away. Local and provincial authorities are leading the response with help from the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO.
UNHCR is concerned over the large number of people left homeless by the flooding and exposed to sickness and disease. While no cases of COVID-19 have reached Uvira so far, the risk of cholera has heightened, as it is endemic to the area.
Local authorities are making land available at suitable locations, and our shelter experts are working with partners to build shelters, latrines, water and sanitation facilities to help prevent cholera and seize the opportunity to heighten awareness and preparedness against COVID-19.
We are also identifying individuals and communities particularly at risk and initiating a psycho-social response.
These floods have further affected a weak road network in and around South Kivu with many bridges being destroyed or damaged. This furthers hampers access to the affected people, who include the displaced and refugees. UNHCR hopes to resume relocating newly arriving Burundian refugees from an already overcrowded transit site as floods hindered the process.
South Kivu continues to see large displacement due to insecurity and conflict. The region currently hosts nearly one million internally displaced people out of the DRC’s more than five million internally displaced.
South Kivu Province also hosts nearly 50,000 Burundian refugees out of the total half a million in the whole the country.
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