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Congolese refugees face mounting crisis

30 November 2012


Mud camp: a Congolese refugee braves a rainstorm as conditions deteriorate at a camp west of Goma, on Monday

Mud camp: a Congolese refugee braves a rainstorm as conditions deteriorate at a camp west of Goma, on Monday

RELIEF agencies are struggling to cope in the aftermath of fighting between insurgents and government troops near the regional centre of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

There are more than 140,000 displaced persons in camps, churches, and schools around the city, and its population of almost 150,000 is facing food and water shortages and power cuts.

Christian Aid's regional emergency manager, Salomé Ntububa, who has been working in Goma for 18 months, said: "There is an urgent need for food and water and basic medical supplies. The area is relatively calm since M23 [the leading rebel group] took control last week, but normal civic life has not returned. People are fearful that the fighting might resume at any moment.

"M23 has told the banks and the schools to reopen, but they have not. People have supplies and money for a few days, but not longer. There has also been a lot of looting after dark.

"Emergency supplies have been promised, and we are trying to get them in now. We are distributing non-food items to people in need, such as tents, cooking utensils, blankets, and soap. One of our main priorities is to find transport to get many of those displaced persons back to their homes."

This week, Oxfam delivered clean water to one camp, and built 40 new latrines for 8000 people in another. Better sanitation is urgently needed to prevent a cholera outbreak.

"Sanitary conditions remain a major challenge due to the lack of toilets and water supply points," a UNHCR spokesman, Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva. "Some cases of vomiting, diarrhoea, and respiratory infections have already been recorded. These respiratory infections are due to the fact that these people have no shelter, and are sleeping in the open, under the rains."

The humanitarian co-ordinator for Oxfam, Tariq Riebl, described conditions as "grim". "Thousands of people are sheltering in schools and churches throughout the city, under plastic sheets hung from the walls," he said. "They have nothing, and they tell us they are hungry and tired."

Some basic foods are reaching markets in Goma, but prices have risen, and many people cannot afford them.

CAFOD's country representative in DRC, Bernard Balibuno, said: "The humanitarian situation is critical. For many previously displaced by fighting, this will be the fourth or fifth time they have had to flee in the past two years."

Roman Catholic leaders from 34 countries in Africa signed a statement last week, calling on the UN, the African Union, the EU, the government of the DRC, regional governments, and multinational companies working in the area to address the causes of the conflict through dialogue.

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