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Clean Water and Sanitation Priorities for Congolese Displaced

Humanitarian agencies continue to try to keep up with the ever-changing humanitarian crisis in the eastern DRC. The UN refugee agency is moving thousands of displaced Congolese further away from the front lines; and aid agencies are rushing to keep up with their food, medical and sanitation needs.

Eleanor Raikes, emergency response coordinator in the eastern DRC for the International Rescue Committee, spoke from Goma to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the problems faced by the civilian population.

"The situation for displaced people here is extremely bleak. There are hundreds of thousands of people who still need urgent assistance. Two of the main areas (where) we find the most urgent needs (are) in terms of access to drinking water and then improving sanitation conditions. IDPs, or displaced people, are gathered in very crowded areas in makeshift camps or sheltering in schools or churches without enough access to latrines and without access to enough clean water, which is increasing the rate of diseases like diarrhea, but also cholera," she says.

Raikes says it's been difficult reaching all those in need. Many are lacking very basic things, such as household items. "People have been displaced perhaps, three, four or five times in the last few months and they've actually lost pretty much everything they owned," she says.

The main reason for the lack of access to the displaced is the lack of security caused by the fighting or movement of combatants. "Access for humanitarian agencies here is still very highly dependent on security, which is extremely volatile. We may be able to access an area for a few days or perhaps a couple of weeks, but that access is not guaranteed. And we frequently over the past month or so have had to pull out our teams from the ground due to deterioration in security," she says.

The IRC emergency coordinator says that there are still "large areas" of North Kivu Province that remain "out of reach to humanitarian agencies." The organization currently has about 10 locations in the province staffed by "mobile teams" that can evacuate quickly should danger arise.

The humanitarian crisis in the eastern DRC includes efforts to stem a cholera outbreak. Raikes says, "We have water and sanitation teams working in…three or four different locations at the moment. We're building emergency latrines and we are trying to provide very rapid solutions to improve water supply. It is a huge challenge because you're looking at camps with tens of thousands of people in them, very crowded and with an immediate need in terms of improving sanitation. "The IRC is planning to build up to 500 latrines "as soon as possible."

It's also been difficult to stop the spread of cholera because of the movement of thousands of people. Raikes says, "Diseases like cholera have actually spread across the province to new areas where cholera was not a problem before."