IRC Boosts Emergency Aid in Congo as Spiraling Violence Spurs More Displacement
“Our emergency team has been heading out every day to reach villages where families are fleeing, but the non-stop violence is making access more and more difficult,” says Bob Kitchen, who spent the day in Rutshuru villages aiding thousands of terrified newcomers.
“The mortar blasts and shooting are ongoing,” says Kitchen. “Today, we had to stop on the roadside while government troops and rebels battled nearby. When the gunfire stopped, we were given clearance to continue. In the hour that we were delayed, thousands of people carrying all that they could on their backs were racing in the other direction.”
Most people fleeing the unrest are seeking shelter in homes and churches of villages close by. Others who stay home during the day, head to the forest to sleep, fearing violence at night.
Kitchen says the size and scope of the crisis is growing fast because of escalating violence and displacement. “Aid and resources are needed now more than ever before in North Kivu,” he says. It is estimated that more than 350,000 people have been displaced by the crisis this year.
This week, the IRC began assisting the under-resourced and neglected Rwanguba Hospital, the main medical facility in the area. Within days, the hospital was treating an average of 220 patients a day, up from just 10.
IRC emergency health coordinator Charles Muganda says some patients are coming in with war wounds, but mostly malaria, respiratory infections and other basic diseases that can become killers when not treated.
The situation in the small inundated town of Kabaya is typical and troubling. IRC arrived there several weeks ago to find a rundown clinic without drugs and one contaminated water hole supplying 20,000 residents and 10,000 uprooted people. The IRC is nearly finished restoring the clinic and is delivering a constant supply of medicine and technical guidance. A measles vaccination campaign is about to begin.
In the meantime, our team trained community volunteers in Kabaya to help to chlorinate their water, an effort that should see an immediate and long-term reduction in diarrhea, another deadly but treatable illness.
IRC specialists in aid for sexual violence survivors are also on the ground in Kabaya and other nearby villages to launch counseling services and train health workers on clinical care for victims of rape. Tragically, the situation for women is dire and the needs are enormous.
Media covering the crisis should contact Melissa Winkler, Melissa.Winkler@theIRC.org, for more information.