Recurring attacks by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to drive forced displacement and extreme hardship for millions of Congolese, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.
The country has 6.2 million internally displaced people, while more than 1.3 million have become refugees.
UNHCR said that Goma, the capital of eastern DRC’s North Kivu province, hosts over 560,000 displaced people in and around the city. Many live in spontaneous sites on the side of the road, in dire conditions, despite the efforts of humanitarian actors.
Constant fear of attack
Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection, recently returned from North Kivu, and she told reporters about one woman she had met, with five children:
“She didn’t have any food even for that day and so she had sent her children out to collect firewood and to try and make a little bit of money. And her main concern was, would her girls come back, without having suffered an attack in the forest.”
UNHCR warned that the lack of adequate sanitation and overcrowding are fuelling risks of cholera and measles outbreaks, while people desperately try to survive.
She said in Buchagara, an official IDP site on the outskirts of Goma hosting more than 15,500 displaced people, vulnerable individuals and families were now being housed in 3,000 emergency shelters alongside recently installed community kitchens, with water and sanitation facilities up and running.
“Currently, the emergency shelter provided only covers three per cent of the estimated needs. Women and youth are particularly exposed to protection risks, including gender-based violence”, she warned.
She said IDPs had appealed for more shelters, and ways of making some income, through agriculture or small business opportunities.
Safety and dignity
“Adequate shelter is key to restoring personal security and dignity”, said Ms. Tan.
More than 180,000 have recently arrived in Kalehe territory, tens of thousands of whom are sheltering in the town of Minova, she added, a two-hour drive south of Goma.
“Local hosting communities have generously shared their limited resources with the displaced populations so far, but they are under enormous strain.”
She said UNHCR had scaled up shelter, site management and protection responses, thanks to generous support from the international community.
“However, the needs are great. The DRC is one of the most underfunded humanitarian situations globally. UNHCR requires $233 million to respond to the needs of displaced people in DRC this year, but so far, has only received 15 per cent of that amount.”