After months of conflict between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups in eastern DR Congo's Ituri region, a UNHCR team has recently been able to obtain access to the area where they met some of the 150,000 people formerly displaced people who are now returning in hope of finding their homes.
Conditions are grim. In all around 350,000 people are estimated to have fled the violence, and those who have returned so far are in many cases finding that their villages and homes have been reduced to ash – making them displaced again.
Our team heard numerous, harrowing reports of barbaric violence, including armed groups attacking civilians with guns, arrows and machetes, entire villages razed, and farms and shops being looted and damaged beyond repair.
The humanitarian challenges are enormous with hospitals, schools, and other key infrastructure having been completely destroyed. UNHCR is particularly concerned about the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition and who are in need of urgent medical care.
Meanwhile, conditions at displacement sites are as desperate. In many places, there is no clean water, no access to healthcare and inadequate sanitation facilities. This is particularly concerning at the displacement site near to the General Hospital in Bunia, where there is a significant and rising risk of diseases spreading. There, the rate at which people are dying has been increasing. Several people were registered dead in June, while the number of people suffering from respiratory diseases and anemia is growing fast.
For both returnees and those at displacement sites, UNHCR is providing emergency and transition shelter kits to replace houses that have been damaged or destroyed. We are also providing cash grants to meet immediate and critical needs, with priority being given to the most vulnerable. Some 1,500 families are set to receive an average of US$210, depending on the family size. UNHCR is also scaling up community engagement to improve social cohesion amongst different ethnic groups.
However, our efforts continue to be hampered by severe and critical underfunding. The humanitarian appeal for the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be among the least-funded in the world. To date, UNHCR has received just 17 per cent of the US$201 million requested to provide protection, life-saving aid and assistance inside Democratic Republic of Congo.
UNHCR urges the international community to come forward with further funding and for urgent action to be taken to address the immediate, pressing needs of those who have been affected by the violence.