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
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