UNHCR assists 6,300 IDPs in DRC's Katanga province
Over the last 10 days, we have been handing out aid packages to more than 6,300 internally displaced people (IDPs) who have returned to their homes in an extremely remote area in the eastern Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). More than 1,200 households returning to three villages in the Sampwe area, 350 km north of the provincial capital Lubumbashi, received kitchen sets, mosquito nets, blankets, plastic sheets, jerry cans, cloth for clothing, and tools to help them build basic shelters. The aid will help meet their basic immediate needs as many returned to find their homes and possessions destroyed.
Some 160,000 people had been displaced in Katanga province by several years of fighting between government forces and Mai Mai militia, most recently between November 2005 and April 2006. But thousands are now starting to make their way home by their own means. In some areas, interagency assessments show up to 80 percent had returned. UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies have put a priority on supporting their return.
The return areas are remote and difficult to access. It took three days for four UNHCR trucks carrying relief supplies to travel the 350 km between Lubumbashi and the distribution area. Despite the start of the rainy season, roads are still passable. UNHCR fears heavier rains in October may block access to some IDP return communities making it difficult to provide further assistance.
The needs of returnees are far greater than the aid provided in the return package. There are no basic health services or functioning schools and returnees are desperate to restart agricultural activities as soon as possible in order to prevent food shortages. UNHCR is working with other UN agencies and NGO partners looking at distributing seeds and agricultural tools in the return areas.
At the beginning of the year in DRC there were an estimated 1.6 million IDPs, but since then thousands have returned back to their homes across Congo.