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UNHCR distributes non-food items to 55,000 people in Katanga

UNHCR distributes non-food items to 55,000 people in Katanga

UNHCR launches a final distribution of aid for internally displaced Congolese who have returned to their homes in Katanga province.
14 February 2008
The distribution areas in central Katanga can only be reached by boat.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, February 14 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has launched a final distribution of aid for a large group of displaced people who have returned to their homes in the southern province of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

"This intervention is being carried out as part of UNHCR's programme of assistance and protection for people displaced in northern and central Katanga," said Roger Hollo, a protection officer in the provincial capital, Lubumbashi.

"Some 11,000 households, or 55,000 people, will benefit," he added after the distribution began in central Katanga's Kilumbe district on Tuesday. The exercise will take two or three weeks to complete.

UNHCR is handing out kitchen utensils, blankets, jerry cans, mosquito nets, plastic sheeting, buckets and soap to each returnee family. The refugee agency and a local implementing partner will also distribute string, nails and hammers to help the former internally displaced people (IDPs) construct homes.

The IDPs will also receive food rations from the World Food Programme (WFP) and other non-food items from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). Provincial officials have broadcast information about the distribution and provided security.

"I am very happy and grateful for this gesture. I was lost, I had nothing left," said an old woman, who, like others at Tuesday's distribution, fled her home three years ago to escape fighting between government forces and the Mai-Mai militia.

Tens of thousands of people displaced by the fighting found shelter in makeshift camps at Malemba Nkulu and Mitwaba, located near Lake Mweru and eastern Katanga's border with Zambia. Access to the area and getting aid to the IDPs was difficult. The IDPs began returning home in 2006.

This final distribution of food and non-food items is being conducted in three isolated villages close to the town of Bukama in central Katanga's Kilumbe district. The area, located in Upemba National Park, can only be accessed by boat.

Last November, UNHCR sent a team to the region to assess the needs of the returnees and look at ways to bring in relief items and distribute them. Aid stocks were brought to the area by railway and road and the first distribution was held in January, with almost 8,000 families benefiting.

There are still more than 30,000 IDPs in Katanga and some 1.3 million throughout the DRC.

By Simon Englebert Lubuku in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo