from JEAN KASSONGO in Kinshasa, DRC
KINSHASA, (CAJ News) – CHILDREN are bearing the brunt of the ceaseless conflicts in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Thousands of them fleeing fighting in the North Kivu province, located in the region, are at grave risk of disease and abuse in overcrowded and unsanitary camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).
Fighting between the Congolese armed forces and the rebel M23 group has intensified since late October.
It has displaced thousands of people from Rutshuru territory in mainly to Kanyaruchinya and Kibati, north of the city of Goma and to Lubero territory.
“IDP camps are fraught with danger,” said Dounia Dekhili, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Emergency Manager.
“In addition to the cholera threat, children and young people are at risk of experiencing gender-based violence in the extremely cramped camps.”
About 100 000 people who have been displaced over the last ten days have fled to hastily formed and desperately overcrowded makeshift camps in the towns of Goma and Lubero.
They are living in makeshift shelters which do not protect them from frequent rainstorms.
Shortages of clean water are placing many IDPs at risk of a cholera epidemic.
Many displaced do not have tarpaulins and are forced to sleep in the open.
About 190 children have been separated from their families or caregivers during the recent displacements.
UNICEF has so far reunited about 80 with their families in Nyriragongo territory.
“The likelihood is that more unaccompanied children and children associated with armed conflict will almost certainly materialise as the crisis unfolds,” Dekhili said.
UNICEF’s priorities are to provide access to safe water and sanitation, work with sister agencies and partners to deliver food and to improve the quality of shelters.
“We call on all parties to the conflict to refrain from violence, protect children and their parents and pursue peace. The suffering here has to end immediately,” said Jean Metenier, chief of the UNICEF Goma Field Office.
– CAJ News