The ongoing fighting and violence in the North Kivu region of the DRC continues to displace many people, who are now seeking safety and medical care. Women are frequent victims of rape.
One of the groups providing aid in North Kivu is the International Rescue Committee. Bob Kitchen is head of the group’s emergency programs. From Goma, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about conditions in the eastern DRC.
“The situation in Goma itself is quite stable, which is where we’ve based our operations. But outside of Goma, as close as 15 kilometers to the northeast and northwest, there’s large-scale insecurity, very, very volatile. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen lots and lots of fighting between Nkunda loyalists, who are one of the leading rebel groups here, and the government forces. That has led to very, very large-scale displacement,” he says.
The IRC is working in an area with 17 health sites to help the displaced.
“In some of the clinics we’ve seen the average daily consultations go from three to five people a day up to 200. So there’s a lot of sick people who’ve been impacted by the conflict to date,” he says.
He says he recently saw hundreds of families walking past him on a road, fleeing the fighting. “That obviously had a great impact on their health. So, we’re seeing people with malaria…we’re seeing people with acute respiratory infections. And then the one we always see is diarrhea because people are being forced to take, drink and use dirty water from wherever they can find it,” he says.
Kitchen says there’s also widespread rape and sexual assault on civilians and the IRC has deployed a medical team to the area to help the victims. He says, “The stories we’re hearing from women are terrible…some of the stories include women who are collecting water and food for their families in the field being abducted by the rebel groups and being held hostage for up to two months at a time. During which they are used as sex slaves, raped on a daily basis. Other stories…where the rebels come in…and rape the women in front of their families. They hold the brothers and husbands at gunpoint and force them to watch as their wives and sisters are raped.”
Kitchen says it’s an attempt by the rebel groups to control and intimidate the population.