DR Congo

Update No 99/02 on ICRC activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

News and Press Release
Originally published
SN 99/212
General situation
The cease-fire agreement, signed in Lusaka, Zambia, in July 1999 by the parties to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and finally also endorsed, as intended, by the country's main opposition movements at the end of August has grown increasingly fragile over the last few months. Its signing was interpreted as a key step towards putting an end to the year-long war, which has drawn in the armies of at least six African nations, three rebel movements and several armed militias. However, recent indicators paint a gloomier picture of developments which threaten to undermine the agreement. The peace timetable is running behind schedule, with the UN Observer Mission in the DRC (MONUC) deploying slower than
officially planned and there have been repeated reports and accusations of violations of the truce from either side. At the same time, mounting tension and insecurity have been reported between the different opposition factions and their allies, alongside frequent military activities by various armed groups with national and regional links in eastern DRC.

Meanwhile, since mid-June an extremely bloody war over land rights has been fought between the Hema and Lendu tribes in the north-eastern district of Ituri. According to local sources, the fighting has claimed thousands of lives and many villages have been destroyed. The ICRC and MSF-Holland estimate that 100,000 to 150,000 people have fled their homes, and over 85,000 have found refuge in and around Bunia.

Latest development: The DRC Red Cross, the International Federation, the Belgian Red Cross and the ICRC have started to assist the large number of flood victims in Kinshasa and are preparing the Movement's further emergency response to the plight of these people. The effort will involve supporting dispensaries receiving displaced people, treating and distributing potable water and establishing a temporary health structure, at the Kinshasa General Hospital, for the treatment of waterborne diseases such as cholera.

Humanitarian situation

Before the conflict escalated, needs for humanitarian assistance throughout the country were extensive. Inevitably, the year of hostilities has taken an even greater toll on the civilian population, the majority of whom now find themselves increasingly poverty-stricken and their ability to meet daily needs continues to be stretched to the limit. The economy is debilitated. Inflation is running high and purchasing power has plummeted. The Congolese currency is still depreciating on the unofficial market and the government has forbidden the use of foreign currencies on its territory and restricted the payment of imports. Basic infrastructure (roads, electricity, water networks, medical facilities, etc.) has not been repaired or replaced. The conflict has disrupted traditional inland trade routes, which used to bring vital supplies and foodstuffs to the towns in the west, in particular Kinshasa. In most cities coping mechanisms are overburdened by the presence of hundreds of thousands of displaced people and indirectly, the fighting has hampered agricultural activity and the proper functioning of local economies.

The security situation remains extremely unpredictable throughout the country, impacting on local populations' essential needs and causing new population movements. Many thousands of people have had to abandon their land and means of survival to move and resettle with relatives, or live in organized camps. However, accommodation is often hazardous or unsuitable, there is no access to clean water, hygiene conditions are poor, and medical facilities are often hard to reach. Resident populations have equally been seriously affected by the conflict. Food production, the provision of essential items and the supply of drinking water are often threatened, all of which encourages the spread of disease. Owing to the conflict, contact between family members has often been disrupted.

Humanitarian response

The ICRC currently maintains a delegation in Kinshasa, a mission in Goma and a sub-delegation in Lubumbashi (see map attached). Over the last few months a permanent expatriate presence has been possible in Kisangani, Kalemie and Bukavu, while an office has been recently opened in Bunia to cover the northern regions.

ICRC activities in the DRC focus on providing assistance (food, non-food, medical, seeds and tools, water and sanitation) to internally displaced people and residents in areas affected by the conflict; monitoring the situation of different categories of people deprived of their freedom; and ensuring adequate medical treatment for the wounded and sick. Since the start of the conflict, the ICRC has constantly had to readapt its activities according to the situation on the ground. A similar approach, providing timely and effective humanitarian assistance to those in need, following detailed assessments and careful analysis of the situation, will be pursued. Emphasis remains on improving contacts with the large number of decision-makers from the relevant authorities (both government and opposition) who may be unfamiliar with the work and mandate of the ICRC, so as to ensure that operations can be carried out in safety.

Security constraints in the field are still one of the main obstacles to the conduct of humanitarian operations. The ICRC carries out its activities within a limited geographical radius, generally concentrating on the main urban centres. Access is still difficult to many regions, including parts of Kasai Oriental province, Haut-Katanga and Tanganyika districts of Katanga province, as well as in the Masisi and Rutshuru regions of north Kivu and throughout the whole of south Kivu. Nevertheless, with the help of the Red Cross Society of the DRC and its extensive network, the ICRC is able to make inroads into these rural areas and assess needs, provide assistance, collect and distribute Red Cross messages and organize family reunifications. The National Society has managed to maintain its unity and operational ability throughout the conflict.

The ICRC cooperates with the main humanitarian organizations active throughout the country. While there are numerous humanitarian organizations working out of Kinshasa, in the east, few other organizations are currently operational. UN expatriates returned to this region in March 1999. NGOs such as MSF Belgium, MSF Holland, German Agro Action, Save the Children Fund UK, Action contre la faim USA, Oxfam UK and Canada are active, together with Caritas and other religious organizations.

Points of humanitarian concern and the ICRC's response


Displaced people and residents

As the only humanitarian organization active in the Bunia region of Ituri province, so far ICRC teams have registered some 85,000 people displaced in the zone between Bunia and Djugu as a result of the inter-tribe fighting. This figure may well increase as accessibility improves, thus enabling further humanitarian assessments. The humanitarian situation is precarious as access to food is difficult. At the time of their displacement the population had to abandon their fields which were ready for harvest and they therefore missed not only the harvest, but also the planting season. Concerned by the threat of a major food security crisis, the ICRC is currently carrying out a large-scale assistance programme to distribute half food rations and non-food kits to 85,000 people (50,000 until the end of 1999 and then 35,000 until the end of January 2000). The ICRC will closely monitor their food security situation and plans to supply seeds and tools to help these people recover their self-sufficiency, subject to the security situation. As the rainy season may well extend into mid-December, making roads inaccessible, relief supplies will therefore be transported from Nairobi to Uganda by road and then flown to Bunia. Distributions have already begun to Bunia (3,500 people), Katoto (2,000), Pimbo (7,175) and to Djugu (2,000).

At the end of October, the ICRC was also able to carry out two important field assessments to Kamina and Kabongo in north-east Katanga province. Large numbers of displaced people were found to be sheltering in both sites and substantial medical needs were registered. The ICRC distributed a stock of essential medical supplies to the medical authorities.

In Kinshasa the availability of food is problematic. Since May, some 11,000 vulnerable families in the most destitute districts of the capital (Mont Ngafula, Kimbanseke and Massina) have been provided with seeds and tools as part of a small-scale vegetable production project conducted in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). As part of a econd phase programme, the ICRC, FAO and their local partners plan to double the number of beneficiaries. The ICRC also intends to improve the irrigation systems at some of the selected sites.

Some 300 refugees from the Republic of the Congo arriving in Mbanza-Ngungu (some 100 km from Kinshasa) in the Bas Congo region, who are sheltering in one site, continue to be supplied with food, soap and medicines by the ICRC, with the support of the local Red Cross Society.

In Lubumbashi the ICRC continues to provide food aid and material assistance for some 3,600 internally displaced people who fled from the areas of Kalemie and North Katanga and who are staying in five sites. In collaboration with local authorities and the "Commissariat à la réinsertion des personnes déplacées", the ICRC intends to relocate two sites, as sanitary conditions will not be adequate during the rainy season.

Civilians continued to be displaced according to the levels of insecurity and in response, ICRC assistance programmes have been substantially stepped up over the last few months. In North Kivu, between July and September a total of 42,245 people were assisted: these included 29,425 displaced people who were helped to return to their villages and were given material assistance, food aid, as well as tools and seeds to restart farming. In addition, 11,670 displaced people in Goma and 230 children and orphans were given food aid. In South Kivu, 18,000 displaced people in and around the city of Bukavu were provided with food aid, and 14,500 people were assisted to return to their villages at Walungu. In the Uvira district
a total of 44,025 displaced people were also assisted. Displaced people living along the northern road on the Ruzizi plain were given help to restart farming activities, whilst those living in Uvira and the road leading south were given food aid.

Water and sanitation projects

The ICRC currently runs over 30 safe water projects in eastern DRC. Thanks to the continued regular supply of chemicals to REGIDESO for water treatment purposes some 11 cities in the east benefit from clean water supplies. In Bukavu and Kisangani, major projects to improve the water supply network are underway and in Bunia, where water supply is very limited and the city is badly affected by the current tribal conflict, the ICRC has resumed the large urban water-supply project, which had been on standby since 1998 for security reasons.

The ICRC continues to be heavily involved in a large number of water and sanitation projects which involve the digging of wells, protection work to springs and the installation of water distribution points. This work centres mainly on urban areas, but also targets rural areas where the displaced or returnees lack clean water. In addition, repairs and renovation work has been carried out to a number of health centres and hospitals to guarantee the supply of clean water and disposal of sewage and waste.

In Kinshasa, the water and habitat unit in Kinshasa has continued its support to the Congolese Red Cross sanitation teams set up to clean, collect and dispose of the rubbish from 16 hospitals in the city. In conjunction with various local NGOs, the ICRC has also been involved in a project to construct wells equipped with hand pumps to provide clean water to a number of outlying schools.

In Katanga Province an assessment was conducted to evaluate how displaced people living in poor areas around the cities of Lubumbashi and Likasi can enjoy improved access to potable water. In Likasi, the Lwambo pumping station was finally inaugurated on 1 August after completion of work to the power line, thus boosting the city's water capacity by 10,000 m3/day.

Wounded and sick

Health facilities, which have long been in need of urgent attention and improvements, have had to cope with too many shortages of medicine and financial resources, to be able to treat the influx of war-wounded. The ICRC continues its support (surgical materials and essential drugs) to three hospitals in Kinshasa and four hospitals and four health centres in Lubumbashi. Since the signing of the Lusaka ceasefire agreement, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of admissions. However, across the country the state of health of the civilian population has continued to deteriorate steadily as a result of the war. Outbreaks of severe diarrhoeal diseases, measles and malaria were reported throughout eastern DRC. Access to primary health care facilities has become increasingly difficult. This is mainly due to a combination of economic and security factors, and to the loss of confidence in health personnel, who are rapidly losing professional
skills. The ICRC is currently assisting five major referral hospitals in the east treating the war-wounded, as well as two hospital centres, and 17 health centres. The facilities are provided with medicines and medical materials on a monthly basis. This programme also includes maintenance and repair work to medical instruments used in the hospitals. A nutrition
centre in Goma and another in Kalemie were both also regularly supplied with food aid and medicines.


Prisoners of war

In accordance with the Third Geneva Convention, the ICRC is currently visiting:

- three prisoners of war held in Kisangani by the Ugandan People's defence forces

- 101 prisoners of war held in Kinshasa by the DRC government and Zimbabwean forces

- prisoners of war captured in connection with the conflict in the DRC and held in Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.


The ICRC r egularly visits people held in protective custody in places of internment in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. The ICRC continues to regularly provide them with food and material assistance, as well as medicines and medical materials. It also increased their water supply and undertook appropriate sanitary work according to the needs and the number of new internees. Special emphasis is given to women and children in these places of internment. In recent months, the number of people seeking to be admitted to the centre in Kinshasa has risen significantly. At the end of November, the ICRC visited 925 people in Kinshasa and 58 in Lubumbashi.

Persons detained in relation with the conflict

Government-held areas:

In Kinshasa and Katanga Province, the delegates continued their visits to three places of detention where 689 people deprived of their freedom for reasons directly linked to the conflict or for reasons of state security were held. The ICRC provides food and non-food assistance and medical supplies to all detainees, as the authorities lack the necessary financial resources. Water and sanitation projects have been carried out where appropriate. A special feeding programme was recently organized for interned children and for those detainees showing signs of malnutrition.

Opposition-held areas:

In eastern DRC, regular visits have continued to people deprived of their freedom in North and South Kivu, Oriental Province and Tanganyika district, in Katanga Province. New places of detention have been visited in Béni, Kindu, Bukavu and Goma. Between July and September, some 500 detainees were either registered or monitored in central prisons, police stations,
interrogation centres, hospitals and military camps throughout this part of the country. All detainees visited in central prisons were provided with material assistance (blankets, soaps, plastic sheeting, disinfectant and jerrycans). Occasionally, recreational items were distributed. The ICRC delegates, accompanied by health delegates ensured that detainees received access to appropriate medical care and, where necessary, provided authorities with dispensary kits. Rehabilitation and sanitation work continued in central prisons of Goma, Bukavu, Uvira and was started in Kalemie.


In accordance with provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, in June and July, the ICRC repatriated 52 people previously interned in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi to Rwanda and Burundi. The ICRC concurrently transferred, from K inshasa and Lubumbashi, 429 internees with close family members in either of the countries to Kigali and Bujumbura.

More recently, the ICRC transferred a Portuguese national from Kisangani to Nairobi where he was handed over to a representative of the Portuguese embassy, while six Angolans were repatriated from Kisangani to Luanda.

Reestablishment of family links for people deprived of their freedom

The ICRC continues to provide a Red Cross message service to restore family links between all categories of people deprived of their freedom and their relatives throughout the country and abroad.


The Kalembe-Lembe orthopaedic centre

- The ICRC continues to manufacture prostheses and to fit amputees (produce 30 prostheses per month by the end of the year).

Restoring family links

- With the assistance of the Red Cross Society of the DRC, the ICRC provides a Red Cross message network for refugees from third countries, displaced people and the resident population to enable them to maintain contact with their families.


- The delegation encourages the incorporation of humanitarian law into the Constitution of the Third Republic and promotes the ratification of Protocol II additional to the Geneva Conventions; organizes information sessions for the relevant local, regional and national government bodies and opposition authorities to present the ICRC=92s mandate and activities in
the DRC.

- The delegation introduces the teaching of humanitarian law and knowledge of the ICRC's activities and mandate into the training of the government armed forces, police/gendarmerie, militias and opposition forces

Cooperation with the National Society

- The ICRC supports the Red Cross Society of the DRC by assisting it in its activities and staff training, with a view to strengthening its emergency response capabilities and reinforcing its capacity and structures in the fields of tracing, emergency preparedness and dissemination/information.