The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is bringing relief to thousands of recently displaced people in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The operation is taking place in the province of North Kivu, where conflict between rebels and government forces intensified at the end of October.
According to its mandate to help victims of conflicts and of internal violence, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) leads the response of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in DRC in close consultation and cooperation with the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The International Federation, whose mandate is to support member National Societies, provides additional support when needed, especially in terms of capacity-building for the National Society.
We asked the DR Congo Red Cross president, Dominique Lutula Kitoko, and secretary general, Jacques Katshitshi, as well as the head of the International Federation's West and Central Africa zone office, Alasan Senghore, to share their views on the current humanitarian operation.
Q: What is the humanitarian situation like in North Kivu?
A (Jacques Katshitshi): More than 250,000 Congolese have had to leave their homes with practically nothing when fleeing fighting and searching for a secure place. Displaced people are living in extremely difficult conditions in several camps in North Kivu province. They shelter in churches, schools or wherever they can find a place to sleep. Additional temporary shelter is needed because people have to vacate the schools to facilitate the resumption of school lessons.
There is a lack of food and water, and the hygiene conditions are terrible. Cases of malnutrition have been discovered in some of the camps. There might just be enough water to drink, but not enough for washing. This, combined with a lack of sanitation such as latrines, is putting people's health at risk.
Some people have lost children and family members. People are scared because the fighting still continues. Due to the fragile security situation, it's impossible to reach some areas to take more help to those in need.
Q: How is the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of Congo helping people in need?
A (Dominique Lutula Kitoko): Since the escalation of the conflict, Red Cross volunteers have given first aid and helped evacuate the wounded to hospitals, when the security situation has allowed. They have also buried corpses and cleaned the surrounding areas.
The Red Cross is working mainly in a camp in Kibati, about 10km from Goma, which hosts 65,000 displaced people. Our volunteers contribute actively to the relief operation launched by the ICRC. They are involved in the daily distribution of 70,000 litres of drinking water y and food packages that last for ten days. They carry out hygiene promotion, help build latrines and assist in the identification of unaccompanied children. Fortunately, we have a countrywide network 100,000 volunteers, around 60 of whom are currently working in Kibati.
Q: What kind of support does the Red Cross need in the operation?
A (Jacques Katshitshi): Displaced people are in need of more food and water, and other essentials like kitchen sets, soap, mats and tarpaulins. We also need to protect our volunteers and provide them with additional first aid equipment such as rubber boots, stretchers, masks, gloves, soap and chlorine tablets for water purification.
Q: What role does the International Federation play in the operation?
A (Alasan Senghore): The International Federation will continue to support the capacity-building of the Red Cross. The International Federation is also looking at possibilities to support the National Society by providing material and equipment for contingency planning for areas outside the conflict zone.
Q: What do you see as the main humanitarian challenges in North Kivu during the coming weeks and months?
A (Jacques Katshitshi): The Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the support of the ICRC, has to be prepared in case the conflict spreads to the surrounding provinces, such as South Kivu, Maniema, Oriental Province, or even to North Katanga. We need to train volunteers who belong to the provincial Red Cross committees in those regions. Volunteers also need additional first-aid training and briefings on working in conflict zones. Warning systems will also have to be developed to quickly mobilize volunteers when they are needed.
A (Dominique Lutula Kitoko): I am most worried about displaced people and their coping mechanisms. People are living in constant fear and in a situation of not knowing what will happen next. How long the conflict is going to last, do they have to flee again tomorrow and how can they feed their children? Many people from North Kivu have already experienced disasters in their lives: the consequences of previous conflicts, floods, earthquakes, epidemics or volcanic eruptions. The current food security crisis, with the increase of basic food prices, has made many families, especially children, very vulnerable.
The Red Cross cannot put an end to the conflict, but we need to find ways to continue assisting vulnerable people. We have volunteers in every village, but in some areas they are unable to help because the security situation is too dangerous. However, we will continue to assist the affected communities because it is our mandate and our mission to be the first organization present in the field.