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First food reaches displaced Congolese in camps around Goma


First food reaches displaced Congolese in camps around Goma

In a race against time, UNHCR and other agencies, including the World Food Programme, distribute or prepare to distribute urgent aid to tens of thousands of displaced Congolese in North Kivu.
5 November 2008
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