Intense violence once again looks to repeat a history of conflict in DRC. Here is a personal letter from our CEO to DFID’s Minister responsible for Africa imploring for funding to be released quickly and prevent further disaster.
Dear Minister, As is too often the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and particular in the Kivus, I have a feeling that history is in danger of repeating itself.
Our field office in Goma is sending us reports of very heavy fighting an around the town of Katanga, north of Goma town, which has taken a heavy toll on civilians and displaced many thousands of people. In fact 5,000 people are reported to be sleeping out in the open gathered around the peacekeeping base in Kitchanga itself and violence is worsening rapidly. There are already multiple reports of women being shot when trying to escape the violence with their crops.
You will remember that last July the M23 offensive into Rutshuru district displaced a large population resulting in 50,000 people gathering in an unofficial spontaneous camp at Kanyaruchinya, just outside of Goma town. Although the offensive happened in early July, when our child protection team did a survey of the camp in mid August, we found that little to no assistance had been received by the people in the camp. Thousands were sleeping in the rough, with no shelter, no mosquito nets, no clean water, and with dwindling food supplies. Most worrying of all, we found 250 unaccompanied children, who had been separated from their parents and, not being registered for any UN assistance, were sleeping on grass, rocks, mats, whatever they had carried with them from their villages. One ten year old girl, who was in the camp, with her five year old brother, told us:
‘We have received no food, no shelter, we’ve been in the camp almost one month…..we are eating just a little, once a day….I think we have food for just another four days. I do not know where my family is, we are alone here in this camp’.
We were extremely concerned about children being exposed to the enormous risks of abuse, abduction and sexual violence. Another girl aged 17, who had seen three relatives burn to death in front of her as she fled from her village, told us:
‘Without a family, in a displaced people’s camp with no food, I will go with the first person to offer me a family life. I am not really old enough to get married. But really I do not know what to do. I have no tent, no family, nothing.’
This girl had been in the camp for 6 weeks. It was close to miracle that she had survived that long. I am fairly certain that we would not have found her there had we delayed War Child’s visit by another week.
It was clear that although the UN has a significant humanitarian budget in DRC, it was not flexible enough to respond to this unexpected turn of events within a time frame that could protect the most vulnerable children.
This week, in Kitchanga, we have a similar situation developing with thousands of civilians and children becoming displaced, and a UN system which I fear will be slow to respond. What was missing last year was a rapid response from donors to the new circumstances on the ground. I am hoping that the response will be different this time. But I wanted to write to you to let you know that this situation is happening now, in real time, and we can’t rely on the UN structures in Goma to respond quickly enough.
War Child implores DFID to acknowledge the gravity of this situation by keeping a close monitoring of its progress to ensure emergency funds can be disbursed quickly enough to save lives. As one of DFID's largest bilateral programmes, the response to DRC must be considered within its long-term implications and the UN pooled fund requests be immediately fulfilled.
Thank you for your attention and I am happy to discuss any of this further with you or with your officials if this would expedite or help your internal processes to respond to this crisis.
CEO War Child UK