Washington, 29 October 2008 - The upsurge fighting in the Eastern DRC is disrupting humanitarian operations there. One of the organizations that have medical clinics in the region is the International Committee of the Red Cross. From Geneva, ICRC spokesperson Marcal Izard talked to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about how the fighting has affected the organization's programs.
"What we know is that in Northern Kivu (Province), which is north of the city of Goma, people are fleeing the recent clashes. Since last Sunday, since 26TH of October, there has a been an upsurge in clashes between the rebel army of the National Congress of the Defense of the People on one hand and the army of the country on the other hand. And there are reports of 20 to 30,000 people minimum that have fled in the last days and they are heading towards (the) Goma area," he says.
The ICRC operates many clinics in the region. Izard says, "We are present in the DRC (for) decades already and also in northern Kivu area we have a presence in Goma, a permanent presence. So we are able to supply the people who fled their homes with food and water and shelter, but not at this precise moment. I mean now what we have to do is to see where they are heading to because it is very fluid at this moment.... People are running from one place to the other and in this moment you cannot assist right away. You have to first see where they are staying."
The ICRC has a surgical team based in Goma that's been treating people with war wounds. "We want now to increase our medical support in Northern Kivu because that is one of the major priorities now," he says.
Because many ICRC staff are confined to their homes or offices because of the fighting, it's
Two boys, fleeing from the town of Kibumba, walk as a tank of the Congolese army moves on the road, about 35 kilometers north of Goma, 27 Oct 2008
hard to get an accurate picture of what's happening on the ground and how many wounded there are. Asked whether the ICRC is considering evacuating from Goma, Izard says, "At this moment clearly we are intending to stay because it's where we are needed... We have to remain there in order to assist the people.... We have (the) intention actually not to decrease, but rather to increase, especially our medical team. So, as long as we can we will obviously stay."
He says the ICRC is staffing and supplying 17 medical clinics in North and South Kivu (Provinces), "which is the whole eastern Congo. And this serves over 600,000 people there." The organization is also distributing water to over 10,000 people in one camp, in Kanyabayonge in North Kivu. And we have also been repairing damaged water supply systems in several cities.... Together with the Congolese Red Cross, we have recently been giving food to 40,000 people in the Rutshuru District." Rutshuru is the scene of the heaviest fighting at this time.