Fighting in Goma the 'tip of the iceberg' as some 25 armed groups control much of region
As the M23 armed group fights to take control of yet more territory in eastern DRC, and a multitude of other armed groups terrorize communities, there is a very real risk of complete collapse of state authority and the humanitarian crisis reaching new depths, Oxfam said today.
Recent conflict has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people, with an estimated 120,000 people now in urgent need of aid. Many are sleeping in the open or sheltering in schools and other buildings and are now without vital humanitarian assistance.
Emergency aid needed
"People are living in chaotic conditions. There are real fears that cholera and other fatal water-borne diseases could spread, as shortages of power and water in Goma have left thousands of people with no choice but to get water straight from Lake Kivu," said Tariq Riebl, Oxfam's humanitarian coordinator.
The agency called on regional and international governments to increase emergency aid to the region, ensure that people are protected from further violence, and urgently work towards finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
Tip of the iceberg
This week's crisis in Goma may only be the tip of the iceberg, Oxfam said. Since April the number of rebel groups has mushroomed after the Government army pulled troops out of much of the east to focus on the M23 rebellion. Other armed groups took advantage of the security vacuum and now at least 25 rebel groups are active across North and South Kivu. Most of the people affected by this week's fighting were already living in camps after fleeing the massive increase in insecurity this year that has displaced 767,000 people across the east.
A shifting patchwork of territory, allegiances and agendas has created a constantly changing situation, and communities that Oxfam works with are afraid that some of these armed groups may opportunistically seize more territory as the crisis deteriorates.
"Chaos breeds chaos. It is communities that will get hit the hardest," Riebl said. "Every day we hear of another attack against farmers as they work in the fields or traders as they go to market. There are hardly any places left that are safe from conflict and violence.
"The world is watching Goma but there are many towns and villages across eastern Congo completely forgotten and run by predatory men with guns. Across vast areas, people are stranded with little or no protection from security services. As the violence intensifies the UN must do all it can to protect Congolese civilians caught in the middle. Women and men have suffered too much for too long; they want security and the chance to get on with their lives. They must not be ignored."
Oxfam scaling up response
Oxfam hopes to scale up its response to the crisis, where it has been providing emergency water and sanitation to 115,000 people for the past few months. The uncertain security situation is hampering aid efforts and Oxfam called on all parties to ensure civilians have safe access to aid.
"It's vital that the fighting stops and aid efforts are stepped up. With almost 2.5 million people now displaced across Congo, this catastrophe needs a humanitarian and diplomatic response that matches the enormity and urgency of the situation. This new crisis must be the final wake up call for action from the African Union, regional institutions and governments, and the international community," said Riebl.