The United Nations is appealing for $38 million to provide life saving assistance for nearly one million civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Aid workers report the already poor situation in north and south Kivu provinces is worsening because of armed attacks and military operations.
The United Nations says all men in uniform are committing atrocities against the civilian population. It says Congolese government soldiers and rebel groups alike extort money from the villagers, rob them of their belongings and of their seeds and cattle.
UN Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs tells VOA if the villagers do not give in to the threats of the men in uniform, their villages are torched and they are attacked with machetes.
"That is why hundreds of thousands are fleeing from one place to another and are returning when the situation permits," said Byrs. "That is why we have this constant movement of population. And, this constant movement of population also affects the humanitarian workers as it makes the planning and the delivery of aid much more difficult because we cannot predict where the people are going or if they are coming back."
The government launched a military operation early this year to rid the eastern Congo of the Hutu militia and other rebel groups. Since then, Byrs says, the humanitarian situation has significantly deteriorated. She says the number of rapes has skyrocketed.
"This year, only for the first three months-January, February and March 2009-1,135 cases of rape have been recorded in south Kivu only," she added. "And, these cases are the reported cases. But, we do not have the figure of the non reported cases, of the women who have not the strength to go and complain or seek for treatment."
Byrs says the needs are many. She says money from the appeal will be used to provide some of the most essential services. She says protection of the civilian population is a priority.
She says therapeutic feeding for severely malnourished children, water and sanitation, and education are some of the other needs that will be covered by the appeal.