Kinshasa — A recent surge in armed and inter-community violence in the eastern province of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is worsening the plight of children, with serious violations against women and children being reported, UNICEF has warned.
The increase comes despite repeated warnings by UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations about the violence, which includes machete attacks and sexual assaults.
There have been nearly 175 grave violations since January 2021, including cases of recruitment of children into armed groups, killings and maiming of children, sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, humanitarians were denied full access to the most violence-affected areas in the territories of Djugu and Irumu.
A large number of people have been displaced because of the attacks, which has separated more than 275 children (including 118 girls) from their parents throughout Ituri.
"We continue to raise the alarm on the terrible situation of children in Ituri because we do not want the world to become numb to this desperate humanitarian crisis," said Jean Metenier, UNICEF's Senior Coordinator for Eastern DRC.
"Every day, children and their rights are undermined through relentless violence and grave rights violations, displacement, rising food insecurity, and lack of access to pretty much every basic service, including schooling.
"We say it over and again: we need the international community to step up, as our work is barely scratching the surface of needs."
More than 1.6 million people are estimated to be displaced in Ituri, out of a total population of 5.7 million people. It is estimated that 2.8 million people are in need of some form of emergency assistance.
Recently released figures reflect the full extent of the crisis in Ituri:
More than 100,000 children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a direct consequence of the alarmingly high levels of food insecurity that affects nearly 800,000 people;
Attacks on schools have left almost 400,000 already displaced and returning children aged 6-11 out of school in the territories of Djugu, Irumu and Mahagi;
Only one in three people in the province has access to basic sanitation services.
Through its Rapid Response Mechanism (UniRR), UNICEF has provided non-food, and hygiene items to more than 8,000 people fleeing attacks by armed groups in Tshabi (South Irumu territory). UNICEF is also mobilising a multisectoral response that integrates child protection, water and sanitation, health, education and nutrition in South Irumu.
But UNICEF is aware that these interventions only meet the needs of a small proportion of the people in Ituri, which is why the UN children's agency is urging other humanitarian actors to deploy resources in those areas not covered by its activities. At the same time, UNICEF is calling on donors to continue their generosity towards the Congolese people.
UNICEF's 2021 humanitarian appeal for US$ 384.4 million is currently only 18 per cent funded.