Kampala — An increasing caseload of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is stretching food and non-food resources in western Uganda, say humanitarian officials.
"The severity and duration of the crisis in the DRC is stretching the ability of many humanitarian agencies to meet the needs of people affected," Lydia Wamala, a UN World Food Programme (WFP) public information and donor relations officer in Uganda, told IRIN by email.
Fighting erupted in eastern DRC in early 2012, pitting the M23 mutineers against other foreign and Congolese militias as well as the DRC army. Mass population displacement has occurred as a result.
WFP in Uganda has reduced food rations for some of the DRC refugees due to a lack of funding. WFP in Uganda, said Wamala, has a US$3.8 million funding shortfall for the rest of its operations in 2012, forcing it to prioritize its limited resources according to acuteness of need. At present, priority has been given to new DRC arrivals, who are receiving full food rations; long-term DRC refugees have had theirs reduced.
Between January and 3 October, at least 47,680 new DRC refugees were registered, in addition to 81,500 other long-term DRC refugees already in the country, according to statistics from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The agency projected that the number of new refugee arrivals could rise to over 50,000 by December. Overall, Uganda is hosting at least 163,000 refugees from the DRC and countries such as Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.
According to Uganda's State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Musa Ecweru, in addition to food challenges, there is a lack basic infrastructure and a need for medical supplies, equipment, and personnel in the western Uganda refugee camps.
"The challenge is high; we are trying all our best to contain the situation. However, we are overstretched," Ecweru told IRIN.
On 27 September, the Ugandan government, along with UNHCR, established a new transit camp at the Matanda area to cope with the refugee influx. As of 3 October, some 3,173 refugees had been registered there, and a further 500 at the border town of Ishasha. The Ishasha refugees are reluctant to relocate into the transit camp, and are hopeful security will improve back home - an estimated 10,000 DRC refugees are reported to have gone back to DRC's North Kivu region.
"There [are] high incidences of watery diarrhoea and upper respiratory tract infections reported. New arrivals are receiving treatment, and we are immunizing children," Sakura Atsumi, the acting UNHCR Uganda country director, told IRIN.
The crisis has taken a toll in Rwanda, as well. In Kigeme camp, in Rwanda's Southern Province, "respiratory infections, pneumonia especially among children, diarrhoea and malnutrition are the main health issues faced by refugees," said Yvette Jallade, UNHCR's Associate External Relations Officer. Kigeme camp is the fourth and newest refugee site in Rwanda. At the end of August, it hosted some 14,047 refugees who fled recent unrest in eastern DRC.
Protracted caseloads of mainly DRC refugees also reside in the other three camps in Rwanda: Gihembe in Northern Province, Nyabiheke in Eastern Province and Kiziba in Western Province.
Jallade said that the numbers of new arrivals are not as high as they were earlier - September saw 87 individuals arriving compared to 8,630 in May. The refugees are mainly coming from the areas of Kitchanga, Ngungu, Bihambwe, Ruvunda and Karuba in North Kivu's Masisi region.
On 18 September, UNHCR launched a supplementary appeal of about $40 million to respond to the needs of "almost half a million forcibly displaced Congolese civilians" in eastern DRC and in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. "As the upsurge in violence in the DRC occurred in April 2012, the financial requirements to address the needs of the newly displaced were not included in UNHCR's 2012 programme budgets as presented in the Global Appeal in December 2011," said UNHCR.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), in a September analysis, projected that the DRC refugee situation could increase Rwanda's emergency food assistance needs to above-average, up to the period ending March 2013.
This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations