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ICRC Steps Up Aid in Eastern Congo


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is stepping up its humanitarian activities in response to escalating violence in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The agency says lack of security in parts of North and South Kivu is having a devastating impact on civilians. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The Goma Peace Conference in January was supposed to have brought a measure of stability to conflict-ridden parts of eastern Congo, but it has not. A cease-fire between Congolese renegade general Laurent Nkunda and the Congolese government remains shaky.

Spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Marcel Izard, tells VOA life in North and South Kivu remains dangerous. He says skirmishes among armed groups are frequent, and tens of thousands of displaced people are too afraid to go home.

"They need to be sure that nothing will happen to them," he said. "Especially rape is definitely a huge problem for a long time unfortunately. This is not a new phenomenon that is going on. This is obviously one of the issues that people are very afraid of and that is the reason they prefer to be displaced before going back to an uncertain situation."

The ICRC is appealing for an additional $8 million to finance increased activities in the region. Izard says the Red Cross has begun distributing a three-month supply of food rations to more than 37,000 displaced people.

"And also, what we call, the essential household items - cooking pots, clothing, different household items to over 115,000 displaced people," he added. "And then we also want to distribute seeds and agricultural tools to 30,000 civilians who are returning home and 10,000 households who are hosting displaced families to allow them to grow sufficient food to become self-sufficient and not to depend on food aid."

The ICRC along with the Congolese Red Cross runs centers where raped and sexually abused women can find refuge and get medical and psychological help. But, Izard says, this is not nearly enough to meet the enormous needs.

Izard says the Red Cross will expand support to victims of sexual violence and continue to provide surgical expertise and medical supplies to hospitals treating the wounded.

In addition, he says, the ICRC will continue to document allegations of violations of international humanitarian law.