Recent confrontation between the M23, a rebel military group operating mainly in North Kivu, and the Congolese army — known as FARDC — in Goma has exacerbated the humanitarian situation in the country. Not only did it endanger many civilians there, it also resulted in the provincial capital’s fall into the hands of the rebel group.
After more than three months, Devex spoke once again with Dominic Keyzer, advocacy manager of World Vision’s eastern region office in Congo, who shared some updates on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the strife-torn country.
What can you say has gotten “worse” since our last correspondence?
With the violent attack on Goma, things are much worse; the number of internally displaced persons has jumped quite significantly. The actual occupation of Goma was not as violent as expected, but there has still been a lot of fighting with the FARDC as the M23 pursued them [on Nov. 21], and eventually took control of Sake, a town in North Kivu.
This continual movement of the front line for the battle has caused the displacement of at least 150,000 people. There are now more than 2.2 million IDPs in DRC and they are suffering terribly, with little or no access to food, water or basic protection from violence. They are mainly women and children with their belongings on their backs or on their heads fleeing the fighting.
With the takeover of Goma, the area now controlled by nonstate rebel groups is much larger, and as a result, the number of children exposed to violence is also larger, as well as potential recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups.
What have you seen along the way, jumping across borders for security reasons?
World Vision staff has been crossing the Rwanda border back and forth since Saturday morning. There was some active gunfire exchange between Goma and Gisenyi on Monday [Nov. 19], which caused many agencies to further relocate to Ruhengeri, another hour away in Rwanda. The border is now controlled by the M23 in Goma, and people are passing without troubles.
Which organizations did you encounter on the ground and what type of aid are they delivering? How?
Along with World Vision, some of the first responding organizations are medical-focused agencies like Médecins Sans Frontières. World Vision is returning to Goma now to begin servicing those displaced by the violence with food aid, water and sanitation, health services, and child-friendly spaces. We are very concerned about the welfare of the displaced, especially the state of children and mothers, who without life-saving assistance will suffer the worst.
What is World Vision’s contingency plan for DRC now, given this situation?
World Vision has a 30-day action plan that has been put into place, which is guiding our work in multisectoral projects to support immediate lifesaving assistance for vulnerable children and their families. This will include distributing food aid to recently displaced families, providing emergency water and sanitation facilities for people in camps and temporary shelters, distributing household items, and ensuring safe spaces for vulnerable children living in IDP camps.
World Vision has called on the special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict to visit the DRC and engage all actors to the conflict to release children fighting in their ranks. We have also called for the U.N. Security Council to activate and deploy a U.N.-A.U. special envoy to the Great Lakes region to assist in the negotiation of a political solution to the conflict.
Do you think the aid community is partly responsible for the longevity of this crisis?
The international development community has challenges like any other industry, but the positive impact that humanitarian aid has had for saving lives, and providing basic relief to people who have suffered from decades of conflict is invaluable. The crisis has continued because those in positions of power have not made decisions in the interest of the people living in areas impacted by the ongoing conflict.
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