International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Conditions worsen in volatile North Kivu as over 200,000 uprooted people face threat of cholera and sexual violence [Press Release]

NORTH KIVU PROVINCE, Democratic Republic of Congo 03 Aug 2012 - The volatile situation in North Kivu Province continues to deteriorate, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said today, and hundreds of thousands of uprooted people are facing the threat of cholera, sexual violence, and breakdowns in the health care system.

Ronald-Paul Veilleux, head of the IRC’s programs in the province, said his agency has temporarily refocused its development programs to providing emergency humanitarian assistance.  During this past week alone, an estimated 30,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to violent clashes between various armed groups, Veilleux said.  They sought refuge less than 20 kilometers from provincial capital Goma. 
 
Veilleux said the human misery caused by the conflict, which has been dragging on since April, is incalculable, especially in the case of women and children.  “We’re doing all we can to help and to show these innocent people that they are not forgotten,” he said.  When fleeing their villages, panic-stricken men, women and children often must leave everything behind. For weeks or months many have had to move in with host families or cram together by the hundreds in schools and churches. The least fortunate lack any shelter at all and must sleep outdoors – a situation that often increases likelihood of sexual assaults against women and girls and further exposes children to being abducted and forcefully conscripted.

The uprooted adults have no income and only a very few can secure temporary jobs harvesting crops that have escaped damage.   

In most locations, access to clean water and sanitation is very poor, increasing the threat of cholera and other water-borne diseases.   

During the past month, the IRC has played a crucial role in containing a cholera epidemic ravaging the region. The biggest challenge was to keep the Cholera Treatment Center at Rwanguba General Hospital, two hours north of Goma, well stocked with drugs and clean water at all times despite combat operations in the area that often made access difficult. 

Meanwhile, the IRC women’s program counselors in North Kivu report a surge in the number of rape survivors seeking help.  Many of the agency’s psycho-social assistants are displaced themselves and have to go to extra lengths to create makeshift confidential spaces where they can speak privately with survivors. The IRC has also provided dozens of post-rape kits to local health centers for survivors seeking medical attention.  

While new waves of displacement are seen every week, depending on the location of armed conflicts, the IRC says the situation is equally critical for people who are able to return home.  Upon reaching their villages, most find their homes and fields destroyed. Their meager resources are further reduced when they have to pay either monetary or in-kind taxes to the armed groups that control various road access points.   

In the Rwanguba area, many rural health centers have also been looted. The IRC, which has routinely provided medication and equipment to all 21 health facilities here, is now resuming essential drug distribution. Access is currently open, due to a lull in combat, but the situation remains extremely unpredictable. Humanitarian interventions can suffer a significant setback should fighting recommence and security conditions worsen yet again.

The United Nations says more than  220,000 people have been driven away from their homes since April, while some 54,000 more  have sought refuge in neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. 

Although North Kivu has long suffered from armed conflicts, intense volatility and mass displacement, the past few years had been relatively calm, allowing many civilians to gradually rebuild their lives and communities with help from development agencies like the IRC. The latest crisis was triggered by the defection of several high profile army officers and their troops, leading to fierce fighting throughout the region between rebels and the Congolese Army.
 

Media Contacts

For more information and interviews in Goma, New York and London, please contact Sinziana Demian, +243 995 200 516, Melissa Winkler, +1 646 734 0305, and Stefanie Pfeil,  +44 (0)20 7692 2735.
 

About the IRC

A global leader in humanitarian assistance, the International Rescue Committee works in over 40 countries offering help and hope to refugees and others uprooted by conflict and oppression.  The IRC has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996 and maintains one of the largest humanitarian aid programs in the country. The IRC runs extensive programs that provide health care, emergency relief for displaced populations, medical assistance and support services for survivors of sexual violence, community development, and increased access to education and training. Our programs aim to save lives, revive communities and strengthen local capacity for recovery.
For more information, visit Rescue.org