While various political initiatives are under way in the Great Lakes region to address the situation in the east of the country, the plight of thousands – both residents and displaced people – remains a concern in North and South Kivu.
"The situation in the Kivu provinces is still very complex and difficult," said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Things are now relatively calm in areas that were previously badly affected, whereas communities in other parts of the provinces face fighting and acts of extreme violence. No-one is spared the consequences - not even women and children. We're also concerned there could be a fresh outbreak of crime in the city of Goma."
"Several thousands of people displaced by the conflict are now starting to go home, especially in Rutshuru, to the north of Goma," explained Frédéric Boyer, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in North Kivu. "However, there's no guarantee that they will be able to resume normal life once they get there. Others have left Goma and returned to the camps on the city outskirts."
In Sake, to the west of Goma, many houses have been looted or burned down. The ICRC is planning to distribute food to 4,000 families over the next few days. Its staff are currently assessing needs in Masisi (North Kivu) and Minova (South Kivu) and preparing the distributions.
Two ICRC surgical teams are now working in Goma - one in N'Dosho hospital and the other in Katindo military hospital. For the ICRC, it is worrying that some local medical personnel have still not managed to return to work at Katindo hospital. "Health-care staff, both civilian and military, must be allowed to care for the wounded and sick in the facilities where they work, and respond to patients' needs," said Mr Boyer.
In Bukavu, in South Kivu, the ICRC has assessed the needs and treatment capacity of the province's general referral hospital and military hospital.
"Children were arriving in Goma only to find that their family members had already moved on to Minova or Sake or had sought refuge in other neighbourhoods of the city," said Benoit Musigsho, a volunteer from the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who is helping to restore family links. "Some were so young that they could not even tell us what we needed to know to track down their relatives."
This situation arose when displaced people, who had taken refuge in the Kanyaruchinya and Kibati camps to the north of Goma, were forced to flee again by the most recent clashes. It was during this second, sudden, mass displacement that many children became separated from their families. Despite the unstable security situation, volunteers from the National Red Cross in North and South Kivu, supported by the ICRC, have registered 300 such children. They have already managed to reunite around 30 of them with relatives in Goma and Bukavu. "Other children will have to wait for us to trace their families," said Mr Boyer. "In the meantime, they are being cared for by local associations or host families. The telephones we provided enabled some people to track down their relatives."
Since 19 November, the ICRC has also:
- maintained its efforts to gain access to people detained in Goma and still being held today;
- operated on 60 war-wounded patients in N'Dosho hospital;
- delivered more than one million litres of drinking water to people in Goma, particularly to the Don Bosco centre (which had been housing around 11,000 people until recently), to N'Dosho hospital and, on a one-off basis, to camps for displaced people such as Mugunga 1 or Lac Vert, to the west of Goma;
- repaired latrines and the water tank at Bukavu military hospital and installed a 5,000-litre water tank at the centre in Bukavu run by the Bureau for Volunteer Service for Children and Health (BVES), where 30 unaccompanied children are being looked after;
- organized a workshop about the risks associated with unexploded ordnance for volunteers from the National Society who are responsible for collecting and burying mortal remains (an ICRC expert in this field has arrived in Goma to help with this work).
Wherever the ICRC operates, it maintains a bilateral, confidential dialogue with the parties to the conflict. Thanks to this approach, its staff are able to reach people affected by the violence.
Any violations of international humanitarian law are broached in confidence and exclusively with the parties concerned. This practice enables the ICRC to protect victims and their families, to foster a climate of trust, to talk to the parties concerned, and to bring about change. Personal data may be collected when visiting detainees, treating people wounded in the violence, or handling mortal remains. This data is shared only with the families, in order that they might know the fate of their loved ones.