LONDON (AlertNet) - Fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has forced more than 140,000 people to flee their homes and seek shelter in camps or makeshift accommodation, according to a statement released on Tuesday by the U.N. refugee agency.
Some displaced are sleeping in the open, resulting in ill health, including vomiting, diarrhoea and respiratory infections, the UNHCR said, adding that sanitary conditions are poor because of the lack of toilets and fresh water.
The agency said it resumed aid deliveries on Saturday to 12 sites around Goma with handouts of soap, water containers and food from the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), in an effort to reach 110,000 people. The WFP said in a statement on Tuesday that it is providing emergency food assistance to 81,000 people at a dozen sites in and around Goma.
“Many of the displaced are telling us they intend returning soon to their home areas, and for this reason the initial aid deliveries are three-day rations only,” the UNHCR statement said. This was the refugee agency’s first large-scale delivery since Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, was captured by the M23 rebels last week.
Both the UNHCR and the WFP reported that the movement of displaced people is fluid, and that some 2,000 people have returned to their homes in Rutshuru territory, north of Goma.
"They had left their home some months ago when Rutshuru territory was under a wave of violence. They came to Goma with basically nothing and have left their fields unattended, most of them will therefore need food assistance back in their home town," said Martin Ohlsen, WFP’s country director in Congo.
"Food assistance is crucial as the displaced people have absolutely no means to access food. Their situation is even harder as food prices are increasing dramatically on the local market," Ohlsen said.
The rebels said on Tuesday they would withdraw from Goma only if President Joseph Kabila agreed to their demands, which the Congolese government quickly dismissed as a farce, Reuters reported.
The deadlock raises the risk that the eight-month-old insurgency could turn into an all-out war in a region dogged by nearly two decades of conflict that has killed more than 5 million people, fuelled by competition for mineral resources, the news agency said.
The M23 rebels, who U.N. experts say are backed by Rwanda and who say they want to "liberate" all of Congo, captured Goma after Congolese soldiers withdrew and U.N. peacekeepers gave up defending the city.
Residents of Masisi district, about 100 kms from Goma, face a double threat as they await the arrival of M23 rebels and undergo violent attacks by other armed rebel groups, and have taken refuge in Bukombo camp, according to a statement released on Tuesday by Jesuit Refugee Service International (JRS).
Heavy fighting began on Sunday after the Mai-Mai militia, believed to be allied with the M23, tried to take the weapons of the Congolese army, the JRS statement said. The rebels, many of whom defected from the ranks of the national army last April, were reported to have marched towards other areas of North Kivu, including Masisi, in the last seven days, in an attempt to defeat other armed groups active in the area.
As a result of the recent violence, JRS has been forced to suspend its activities in Masisi, the agency said.
Previous round ups of humanitarian activities:
Nov. 26, 2012 - Food price hikes complicate Congo's humanitarian crisis - Oxfam