First food reaches displaced Congolese in camps around Goma

News Stories, 5 November 2008

© UNHCR/P.Taggart
One of the UNHCR trucks arrives in Goma with aid for the displaced.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 5 (UNHCR) As a massive food distribution got under way Wednesday in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency prepared to hand out tonnes of shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpile in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution.

It arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

The food distribution is the first in North Kivu since a major new eruption of fighting between the DRC armed forces and fighters loyal to renegade general, Laurent Nkunda, sent tens of thousands of displaced people fleeing for their lives. Many have ended up in the six camps.

The aid operations were made possible following a ceasefire and relative calm over the past few days. But reports of fresh fighting Tuesday between the pro-government Mai Mai militia and Nkunda's forces in the Rutshuru region, some 70 kilometres north of Goma, are threatening to restrict the movement of humanitarian agencies once more.

The UN refugee agency was able earlier this week to begin improving shelter and sanitation facilities at the crowded Kibati camp for internally displaced people, which is located close to Goma. The camp population grew from 15,000 to some 65,000 people in the space of a few days.

UNHCR, through its implementing partners, has constructed three Rubb halls at Kibati, which will be used to provide shelter for the displaced. These giant portable warehouses can each accommodate about 200 people. The third one was completed on Wednesday.

It is currently the rainy season and many people have no shelter from the elements. Many also lack blankets or mats, but UNHCR's aid delivery should help many.

The biggest obstacle for humanitarian workers in North Kivu is the reduced or non-existent access to the most vulnerable people and families.

UNHCR is also concerned that armed men might be infiltrating the IDP camps. "We are again calling upon all parties to the conflict to respect the civilian character of all sites. This is of utmost importance as we are trying to ease the suffering of the displaced population" said Karl Steinacker, the UNHCR emergency coordinator in eastern DRC. UNHCR is concerned that Kibati is now the frontline between the army and Nkunda's fighters.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

By David Nthengwe in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

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Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

Humanitarian organizations in South Sudan are working to deliver emergency assistance to some of the tens of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in Jonglei state. Most of those uprooted have fled into the bush or have walked for days to reach villages away from the fighting. Others have journeyed even greater distances to find sanctuary in the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Gaining access to those affected in an insecure and isolated area has been a significant challenge for aid workers. Since mid-July, an airlift has been providing food supplies to families living in two previously inaccessible villages and where humanitarian agencies have established temporary bases. As part of the "cluster approach" to humanitarian emergencies, which brings together partners working in the same response sector, UNHCR is leading the protection cluster to ensure the needs of vulnerable individuals among the displaced are addressed.

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