In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an International Joint Effort Rushes Essential Items to 20,000 Displaced Families
Natacha Ikoli, UNICEF
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo (January 3, 2013) — Twelve miles outside of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, Bulengo internally displaced persons site is bustling with families waiting to receive kits that will assist them during their displacement.
The camp is one of five sites that have swollen with new arrivals since the recent upsurge in violence in the region.
North Kivu province has been the site of relentless fighting for over a decade. Since April, the beginning of the current crisis, an estimated 500,000 people have been displaced in the province. Many of these families had already been displaced and were living in sites for displaced persons or with host families, only to be displaced yet again.
Febe Bushu and her family have been displaced twice. In September, they fled their home in Pinga, some 49 miles northeast of Walikale in North Kivu. “We left Pinga because of the war. Everyone was fleeing,” she says. Constantly pushed south by fighting, the family walked for a full two weeks before they reached Goma, where they found temporary refuge with a host family.
Two weeks ago, she and her family had to leave again because food was too scarce. “The family had nothing at all, so we felt it was best to leave,” says Bushu. Today, the family live at Bulengo.
Most of the displaced population have left their homes or places of refuge quickly, with few belongings. Many have been forced to sleep in makeshift shelters. The improvised shelters provide little protection from the frequent, seasonal rain, especially during the night.
“Many still lack proper shelter to keep themselves dry and warm,” says UNICEF Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Barbara Bentein. “When children get wet and cannot change their clothes, they become more at risk of falling sick and suffering from infectious diseases such as pneumonia.”
Bulengo is one of the sites where displaced persons have found refuge around Goma. According to humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Tariq Riebl, the residents of the camp are a mix of people from different areas affected by various factions involved in the conflict. “The needs are intense because all of them have fled conflict, and all of them have suffered from the trauma of having to move, often several times,” he says.
One-of-a-Kind Joint Effort
Bushu collects her relief kit. The relief kits contain ten essential items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, sleeping mats, clothing, a wash basin, a jerry can, a kitchen set and soap. “The tarp will help cover my tent,” she says. “I’ll be protected from the sun and I won’t have to hear all the noise outside. Cooking pans also mean I can cook, and that’s really important.”
The mass distribution of relief kits to assist families like Bushu’s is the largest operation to be carried out in North Kivu in recent years. UNICEF has coordinated the operation, which has involved 13 local and international NGOs, as well as other United Nations agencies, including AIDES, AVSI, Care, Caritas Goma, Concern Worldwide, Handicap International, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam Great Britain, Première Urgence, Save the Children, Solidarités International, OCHA, UNHCR and UNOPS. The distribution has been made possible with support from donors including the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) and the Governments of Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Sweden.
On the ground, more than 210 staff have been steadily working to ensure that the families receive their kits before the Christmas holiday.
Security Situation Remains Tense
“People arrived in Bulengo two to three weeks ago,” says UNICEF Emergency Officer in Goma Ulrich Wagner. “Insecurity delayed the distribution. Now, we aim to be as quick as possible to get these kits to the families, as long as the security allows it.”
A calm has prevailed over the Christmas period, which allowed UNICEF and its partners to intervene swiftly, undertaking a census and registration of families in preparation for the distributions. All told, over 1,000 tons of supplies have simultaneously been distributed in multiple sites to more than 20,000 displaced families over the course of four days.