Press Release New York, NY, January 24, 2000 - Faced with alarming levels of malnutrition, mortality, and population displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the international aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today urged the United Nations Security Council to increase an effective UN humanitarian presence to assist at-risk populations on both sides of the frontlines and step up measures to ensure humanitarian access to the conflict zones. MSF also urged that all parties to the conflict protect civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.
An estimated 900,000 people have fled their homes and are living in an increasingly precarious situation in the DRC. In large cities food supplies have been curtailed and prices have skyrocketed. The six million inhabitants of Kinshasa are finding it harder and harder to feed themselves. In Kisangani, a city of 400,000, over 7,000 children are suffering from malnutrition, and mortality rates are soaring from the lack of healthcare. MSF has opened intensive feeding centers in the city to care for over 3,000 children.
"Small children are paying for this conflict with their lives," said Mit Philips, M.D., Director of Operations in the DRC. "The war has caused widespread population displacement and a total collapse of the economy. An urgent reaction is required in order to reduce the likelihood of a large-scale food crisis in the cities and isolated regions of the country."
The current conflict and increasing regional involvement has aggravated an ongoing crisis in the DRC, bringing the country to the point of near economic and social collapse. In northeastern DRC, the escalation of the conflict has resulted in the displacement of an estimated 150,000 people in the past 6 months. Many of the displaced lack access to adequate food, shelter, water, and health services. In two of the most affected health zones, more than 60% of the health centers have been either destroyed or abandoned as a result of the conflict. Outbreaks of measles, meningitis, and cholera are on the rise and malnutrition rates among the displaced are rising.
As humanitarian needs escalate due to the fighting, increased insecurity in the war zones is making it extremely difficult for aid agencies to work. Obtaining access to vulnerable populations close to the front lines is increasingly limited and risky. On January 14, an MSF team was attacked near Bunia in northeastern DRC. In parts of South Kivu, the security situation recently forced another MSF team in Shabunda to evacuate. MSF teams in Equitor province are making every effort to continue working despite severe curtailment of mobility.
"Not only is this war causing widespread suffering and hunger, it is stopping aid agencies from helping civilians caught in the middle of this ongoing conflict," adds Dr. Philips. "It is imperative that the UN member states meeting in New York this week take concrete steps to press for humanitarian access to the populations in need."