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Children and their families continue to suffer in the east of the DR Congo

Conflict across the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues as local and foreign armed groups vie for control.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), nearly 375,000 people have been displaced between January and August in South Kivu alone. Fleeing militias who burn and pillage their communities, refugees have fled into neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda or to other areas within the DR Congo.

Visiting the region in August, the United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said this part of the DR Congo is “in the midst of one of the most complex humanitarian crises in the world”. Having spoken with people forced to leave their homes without any belongings, Ms Amos called on the international community “not to forget the people of the DRC”.

Agencies in the region are continuing to deliver humanitarian assistance where they can, but admit high levels of insecurity and poor road infrastructure are leaving thousands of people beyond their reach. Therefore thousands are facing food insecurity and the threat of diseases such as cholera. Children are especially vulnerable and not only because of inadequate relief efforts.

Essential health services, normally delivered by international agencies, are being severely affected in the region. For example, some mobile clinics have had to be suspended due to the fighting and many local medical staff have left the area. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, an operations manager for Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) said that by the time families were able to reach those medical centres still operating, children were presenting late with “life-threatening malaria, malnutrition or respiratory tract infections”. Some children are also being brought into hospitals with bullet wounds, having been caught in the crossfire of fighting.

Education is also being severely disrupted. In the Shabunda territory of South Kiva, OCHA reports that three-quarters of classrooms in 14 schools have been destroyed by the activities of armed groups. Schools and classrooms have also been damaged in other regions and some have been closed to pupils because they are being used as temporary shelters to house the displaced.

On top of all the hardships, older children also face the threat of forced recruitment into armed groups in certain areas. A coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) issued a statement last month warning about the “real risk of recruitment” among minors, particularly since the activity of child protection organisations has had to be reduced. This is allowing some militias ‘free rein’ to forcibly take youngsters into their ranks.

Nearly 10 million dollars has recently been allocated by the Central Emergency Response Fund to support five UN agencies dealing with population displacements in the Kivu provinces. But without an end to the fighting, it may be impossible for these agencies to reach the people who need their help the most.

Laurinda Luffman signature