The humanitarian situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains "extremely worrying," a United Nations official said today, with at least 130,000 displaced persons in and around the city of Goma who fled the fighting in the area over the past two weeks and are in urgent need of basic services.
"The protection of the civilian population must be a priority for all, in line with the ongoing efforts of MONUSCO and international partners," the Humanitarian Coordinator for the DRC, Moustapha Soumare, said in a statement provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The province of North Kivu, in the eastern DRC, has been the site of upheaval and a humanitarian crisis recently, with the occupation of its capital city, Goma, by the 23 March Movement (M23) armed group, composed of soldiers who mutinied in April from the DRC national army, known by the French acronym FARDC.
Monitored by peacekeepers from the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), M23 fighters withdrew from the city over the weekend, in line with requirements laid out in a communiqué of a regional group, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The communiqué also restricted the M23 outside of the 20 kilometre zone around Goma and called on them to cease all military activity while a long-lasting solution continues to be worked on.
In addition to uprooting tens of thousands of people and clashes with the FARDC, the conflict also generated reports of targeted summary executions, widespread recruitment and use of children, unconfirmed cases of sexual violence, and other serious human rights abuses.
"Goma has a population of nearly 800,000 and while awaiting that the Congolese authorities regain full control over the city, one cannot exclude the risk of looting or renewed violence," Mr. Soumare said. "I call on all parties to honour their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect all civilians."
The UN official said OCHA and other relief agencies are stepping up their efforts to provide water, food and medical care to the population, including those wounded during the conflict. Assistance is also being provided to victims of sexual violence and to children who have been separated from their families to help reunite them.
While many displaced persons have chosen to leave camps to return to their homes, Mr. Soumare noted that they are still in danger as brutal attacks are on the rise in other areas of North Kivu, particularly in the Masisi territory.
"In this context, the situation will remain volatile and hundreds of thousands of people will continue to depend on emergency aid for their survival," he said, calling on all parties to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to people in need wherever they are to ensure the protection of displaced and host communities.
"I hope to see the ongoing regional initiatives lead to an effective and lasting resolution of the recurring crisis in eastern DRC, to allow the hundreds of thousands of Congolese to no longer have to suffer from the human tragedies seen every day on the ground," Mr. Soumare added.
An effective humanitarian response has been possible due to pledges by several partners - however, Mr. Soumare pointed out that the funding levels for the 2012 Humanitarian Action Plan remain low. The Plan has so far received only 56 per cent of the $791 million required to respond to needs in the country, which also include aid to address severe epidemics of diseases such as measles and cholera, chronic malnutrition and food insecurity.