LONDON (AlertNet) –The price of food is rising in eastern Congo amid worsening violence in the region over the past few days and many people are unable to afford it, aid agency Oxfam said in a statement on Monday.
Thousands of people have fled new fighting in the past 48 hours, Oxfam said, adding that it is stepping up aid supplies to more than 80,000 people in and around the city of Goma, which was captured by M23 rebels last week.
“Conditions here are grim," said Tariq Riebl, Oxfam’s humanitarian coordinator. “Thousands of people are sheltering in schools and churches throughout the city, under plastic sheets hung from the walls. They have nothing, and they tell us they are hungry and tired.”
Oxfam trucks were delivering clean water to Lac Vert displaced camp on the edge of Goma on Monday, the agency said, adding that it has also built 40 new latrines for 8,000 people sheltering in squalid conditions at the Don Bosco site in Goma.
“With tens of thousands of people descending on Goma this week as rebels consolidate their positions in the surrounding hills, there are serious shortages of water and better sanitation is urgently needed to prevent the spread of cholera,” Oxfam’s statement said.
The situation is complicated by a lack of power in Goma, it added.
Oxfam teams are also setting up water systems for a new camp at Bulengo, west of Goma, to shelter an overflow of people that have flooded into the Mugunga 1, Mugunga 3 and Lac Vert camps. An estimated 15,000 people are expected to arrive over the coming days.
M23 fighters are fanning out into the hills south of rebel-held Sake, about 25 km (15 miles) from Goma, and less then 20 km north of government positions, Reuters reported on Monday.
"We walked all day to get here from Sake," a displaced woman who is now staying at Lac Vert camp told Oxfam. "I came with my nine children and I had to tie them together so that I did not lose them. We are tired of always moving, and we are tired of the fighting."
The agency urged safe access for humanitarian workers trying to help civilians.
“Insecurity is hampering aid efforts, with ongoing fighting and attacks preventing aid workers from reaching some areas for prolonged periods of time,” the agency said.
Rebel leader Colonel Sultani Makenga is on his way to Uganda's capital Kampala at the invitation of the head of the Ugandan military, an M23 spokesman told Reuters.
U.N. experts say the eight-month insurgency by M23 fighters is backed by neighbouring Rwanda.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila met M23 rebels for the first time at the weekend after a summit in Uganda where regional leaders gave M23 two days to leave Goma, without specifying the consequences if they failed to do so.
Here is a round up of humanitarian agency activities in the area:
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday that it had identified about 80 war-wounded patients on Wednesday and Thursday in two hospitals in Goma.
Half of the patients had been wounded in recent fighting, placing a heavy burden on the hospitals, which are also treating people wounded prior to the most recent outbreak of violence last week, the ICRC said, adding that its surgical team operated on four war-wounded patients on Thursday.
"Many people have been wounded, while the thousands forced to flee their homes to Goma have been without help for several days," said Frederic Boyer, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Goma.
"The front line is shifting and new communities are now directly affected by the conflict in North and South Kivu," Boyer said. "Others are living in fear of being caught up in the fighting at any moment."
The ICRC said it is operating around the clock in N'Dosho hospital in Goma, while its Geneva-based chief surgeon has travelled to the city as part of overall efforts to increase the size of its medical team.
The agency said it has delivered medicines and other medical supplies to the hospital, as well as 28,000 litres (6,159 gallons) of drinking water.
Katindo military hospital in Goma also received medical supplies and fuel for generators to power equipment, the statement said.
"Civilians and wounded combatants are dying from their injuries," said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC delegation in the DRC.
"Every sick or wounded person is entitled to medical care," he added. "They must be spared and protected, as must health-care facilities and personnel. And the red cross emblem must be respected."
The ICRC has delivered 85,000 litres (18,697 gallons) of water to temporary shelters, including to the Don Bosco transit camp where it said unaccompanied children and 7,000 displaced people have sought refuge.
Over the last two days 60 unaccompanied children have been registered, and efforts to trace their families are now underway, the ICRC said, adding that a team collected and recorded the remains of 60 people who died in Goma.
The charity ActionAid said in a statement on Friday that it has been forced to stop work in several communities because of the violence.
"The situation is worsening as the efforts of aid agencies are becoming severely disrupted -- we are unable to deliver help and reach out to vulnerable people trapped by the conflict," said Adelin Ntanonga, ActionAid's country director for DRC.
"We are witnessing an appalling humanitarian crisis that will deteriorate further if we continue to be denied access to the worst affected areas."
In Goma there is little food, clean water or shelter and no medical facilities or power, ActionAid said, adding that fighting has not only destroyed property, public infrastructure and equipment, but that it has also led to the looting of livestock, increased violence against women and girls, and human rights violations.
Nov. 21, 2012: Aid agencies boost defenses as Congo violence spreads