DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (November 28, 2012) — “We are on the ground and are reaching out to children affected by the crisis,” says UNICEF Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Barbara Bentein.
“Within 24 hours after fighting erupted, we distributed high-energy biscuits to children, and we will continue to respond to their urgent needs, as the situation evolves.”
Over the past week, fighting between rebel group The 23 March Movement (M23) and the Congolese Army (FARDC) has displaced thousands of people within North Kivu province. Children and their families are on the frontline of a conflict that risks expanding to other parts of the country.
Last Sunday, UNICEF driver Mansour Rwagaza heard gunshots and shelling as he arrived at the Don Bosco Center with 20,000 high-energy biscuits for children who had been displaced by the recent clashes. “I was 500 meters from the frontline, but I was ready to save those children,” he says.
When Rwagaza gave the biscuits to one of the mothers at the center, she exclaimed, with tears in her eyes, “UNICEF saved my son. He was so weak after two days without food.” Rwagaza returned three days later to deliver another load of biscuits, bringing the number of families served to a total of 600.
“The impact of our fast action is the result of strong partnerships with local and international partners,” says Head of UNICEF Operations in Goma Jean Metenier.
UNICEF partner Programme d'Appui à la Lutte Contre la Misère (PAMI) has set up listening points in five locations in an effort to register unaccompanied minors and reunify them with their families.
In response to the risks posed by unexploded munitions and explosives from the clashes, another UNICEF partner is providing large-scale mine-risk education in and around Goma.
Through Centre d'Action pour Jeunes et Enfants Défavorisés (CAJED), UNICEF is ensuring the safety of children who have been demobilized from armed forces and groups, to prevent their re-enrolment. Further, over the past month, humanitarian partners on the ground have repeatedly expressed concern about the recruitment of minors. Together with its partners, UNICEF is preparing to scale up demobilization and reintegration capacities in support of children associated with armed forces or groups.
The threat of water-borne diseases such as cholera is acute. In response to the dangerous combination of overcrowding and the rainy season, UNICEF partners have increased the number of chlorination points to 55 in the Lake Kivu area to ensure water treatment.
They have also established 200 latrines in areas in which many displaced persons have settled. Clean drinking water is being delivered by truck to sites that have experienced a mass influx of new internally displaced persons and to the Don Bosco Center.
Treatment of severely malnourished children at sites housing internally displaced persons around Goma is ongoing in coordination with several partners, including Caritas and Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland.
As soon as the security situation allows, UNICEF and its Rapid Response to Movements of Population mechanism partners will launch the distribution of essential household items and health interventions for the displaced families; kits for 14,200 families are ready for dispatch in Goma.
Emergency school and teaching kits are also ready to facilitate the return of children to school, once the situation is stable. Children are currently deprived of education, as schools are closed within 18 miles of Goma. However, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and partners, UNICEF is conducting a damage assessment of local schools.
“We call on all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to protect the rights of all children. Their survival and well-being must be our shared concern,” says Bentein.
UNICEF requires more than $164 million to address the needs of children and women affected by the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2012. While the current focus is on North Kivu, UNICEF continues to address the needs of children across the country, including those affected by floods, malnutrition, cholera, measles and displacement in both the South and West.
As of November 2012, more than 2.4 million people are displaced within the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of fighting between the Congolese army and various rebel groups, including 1.6 million people in North and South Kivu. More than 60% of them are children and women.