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Red Cross Helps Victims of Fighting in North Kivu, DRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is launching an emergency operation this week for thousands of people who have fled renewed fighting between government and rebel forces in North Kivu in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says about 5,000 displaced people are living in difficult conditions in the town of Kalembe, 50 kilometers northwest of Goma in North Kivu. Officials say few towns in North Kivu have been left unscathed by the renewed fighting, which has been moving from place to place making it difficult to find a haven for victims.

Red Cross spokeswoman, Anna Schaaf, describes Kalembe as one such place. She tells VOA that local residents who fled armed violence in their town in recent months have come back now that the situation is calm again. But, she says the local people are desperately poor and are not able to cope with the influx of newly displaced.

"Those who have arrived early and were actually able to find a place to live together with the residents, the local people in Kalembe have done so. And normally the residents are very open to try and help those who have arrived and have left everything behind when they fled," she said. "What happens now is that they are just overwhelmed and it is not possible anymore for the residents to help out the displaced because they are so poor themselves that they do not even have enough space to accommodate them in their huts or to give them a roof over their heads so they can sleep."

Schaaf says the Red Cross this week will be distributing emergency supplies for 5,000 displaced people. She says each family will receive a bucket, soap, blankets, mats, clothing, hoes and cooking utensils. She says a similar distribution was made to the local residents of Kalembe when they returned to their homes in June.

In addition, she says the Red Cross will provide drinking water. She says Kalembe's water supply, which normally is enough to meet the needs of the inhabitants, is not enough for all the people now crowding the town. And, this, she says, could pose health threats.

"The health conditions at the moment are still o.k.," she said. "But, what happens when lots of people gather in the same place and there is insufficient hygiene and no drinking water, is that it is very dangerous and water borne diseases can break out very easily and that would be really, really terrible for the population there."

Schaaf says the Red Cross is installing a temporary water supply system in the town in hopes of preventing an epidemic of water-borne diseases.