(IRIN) – Weather conditions and continued insecurity are hampering aid agencies’ efforts to reach hundreds of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The onset of the rainy season has made many roads impassable, cutting off large populations from assistance. UN World Food Programme (WFP) officer Laura Parker told IRIN that a convoy of trucks that WFP sent to Walikale territory in North Kivu province in early September took 11 days to cover 250km.
WFP has faced a series of setbacks in its attempts to help the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Walikale.
“We got the alert in February that there were 86,000 newly displaced in the territory needing assistance,” said Parker. “We had already started to mobilize our trucks at that time, but due to security and weather conditions we were not able to get trucks out there till July, and the recent rains are a severe hindrance.”
The agency is now considering other transportation options for Walikale. Parker said air transport might be a possibility, though it would be expensive. The convoy of trucks will be driven to Kisangani, about 600km further west, and might be used to supply Walikale from there.
Many without help
UN agencies are also concerned about 129,000 newly identified displaced people who have fled massacres in Masisi territory in the past few months. WFP is planning operations to assist this group in the very near future, said Parker. Most are at ‘spontaneous sites’ in Masisi, rather than at officially recognized camps. Some of these sites can be reached by lorry from the provincial capital, Goma.
Displaced people visited by IRIN in Rubaya, about 50km from Goma, on September 15 said they have had had no outside help since arriving there on July 23. Many in the crowd looked undernourished and in poor health. “We live like birds,” said Charles Matito, a spokesman for the IDPs. “It’s people here in Rubaya who give us something, a few potatoes now and then.”
A camp of stick-and-grass huts was being erected in a field next to the main settlement. Some of the shelters were covered with plastic sheets, which Matito said the IDPs had brought from another camp at Katoyi. Many of the Rubaya IDPs had been at the Katoyi camp until it was attacked and emptied by the Raiya Mutomboki militia in July.
Some of the displaced were sleeping in classrooms or a church at night but lacked shelter from the rain during the day. Devote Nyiranziza, who is at least six months pregnant, said she was worried about giving birth in these conditions.
About 7km further west from Rubaya is another spontaneous site at Kibabi. A spokesman for the IDPs there, Innocent Bahati, said on September 15 they had nothing to eat and no shelter. Aid agencies had visited, distributed vouchers for relief supplies and built eight latrines, but there has been no other assistance, he said.
IRIN has since learned that the NGO CARE has done a food distribution for 3,900 households at Rubaya, Kibabi and another settlement Kinigi.
According to its latest figures, WFP is giving food aid to 265,000 IDPs in North Kivu, out of a total displaced population of about 680,000. The food has been concentrated on the 31 camps in the province that are officially recognized by the government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Most of these are in Rutshuru and Masisi, densely populated areas with a history of frequent displacements. Only two are in Walikale.
Agencies find it much easier to assist people at official camps, but many of the recently displaced have gathered at spontaneous sites.
“There are many reasons for this,” said Parker. “It might be proximity to their village of origin, or ethnic composition at the site or at organized camps. It’s a big challenge to assist those people because they don’t go through official registration processes, so it’s very difficult to get accurate numbers on them.”
UNHCR’s Christophe Beau, head of the North Kivu Protection Cluster, a humanitarian network, suggested many IDPs head for areas they know because they lack information about security conditions in official camps, several of which have been attacked in recent months.
“It’s important that IDPs know, as soon as possible, where they can go to find security, and that the authorities know where the security conditions can be offered,” he said.
WFP is now working on ways to reach the spontaneous sites. Road conditions rather than security are the biggest issue, a staff member indicated. The agency’s own workers have not been targeted by armed groups in recent months, except when a team was detained for a few hours by the Alliance des Patriotes pour un Congo Libre et Souverain (APCLS), an armed group that controls part of western Masisi.