As signs appear that M23 forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have started withdrawing from two towns captured from government troops, World Vision is calling for international support to make sure the conflict does not spur a vast humanitarian crisis.
“The frontlines keep changing, and tens of thousands of people continue to be displaced and re-displaced. Their desperate hunger compounded by exposure to extreme violence – we hope that whatever negotiations are going on at the international level that they are keeping the needs of children and communities as their number one priority” said Dominic Keyzer, Eastern Region Advocacy Manager for the DRC.
M23 leaders today committed to withdrawal from two towns captured from government troops – Sake and Masisi, and then to retreating from Goma to a distance of 20km from the city. The military leader said this follows an agreement facilitated by Uganda. The move comes as the continued violence has left an additional 140,000 displaced from their homes – contributing to the nearly 2.5 million people displaced in the DRC. A number that is expected to grow if the situation does not stabilize. World Vision staff report seeing thousands of families still moving into makeshift camps.
“The situation for the displaced is deplorable. They are living in small huts made with sticks and they are hungry with very little food and water. One girl we met broke down in tears from hunger – it was heartbreaking,” said Aimee Manimani, Senior Communications Officer for World Vision in the DRC. “When people are hungry they get desperate – and in this environment, that can increase the chance for outbreaks of violence. World Vision is determined to help people in their hour of need. Especially for women and children food is the number one priority”
World Vision is currently supplying more than 31,000 people with rations of beans, maize flour, oil and salt and is working with the World Food Program is secure new supplies to feed over 100,000 more beneficiaries. However, the violence continues to hinder relief efforts.
“Ensuring access to populations at risk is extremely important. On Wednesday we had to cut our assessment short as fighting was coming closer to our teams in the field. Actors in the conflict must ensure that humanitarian organisations can reach our communities and provide them with life-saving support,” said James Chifwelu, Regional Director for World Vision in the DRC.
Meanwhile, the future of Goma remains unclear. The city has suffered under a tense calm, with cuts to power and water. Public offices, schools and banks remain closed. However few shops and other private offices were opening slowly. Rebel patrols in the city, held for more than a week by the M23 movement, had also been scaled back and witnesses said that they saw fewer of the groups of soldiers on the streets and were seeing a visible increase in UN patrols. "We are seeing an increase in MONUSCO patrols around the city, and hoping that this ongoing presence will help to maintain the tense calm that exists, so that children can return to school without fear," Chifwelu said.
"The complexity of the eastern DRC, facing at the same time conflict, and massive humanitarian and development challenges, has really stretched the capacity of MONUSCO (the UNs stabilisation force in the DRC). It is hoped that this crisis will highlight the massive needs here - and that the proposed AU-UN force will further support the protection of civilians, and a more effective peacebuilding and stabilisation process," said Robert Kisyula, National Director for World Vision in the DRC.
29 November 2012