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Humanitarian Agencies Find Northeastern DRC Vast and Insecure

UN and humanitarian agencies are facing many obstacles in northeastern DRC, as they bring in emergency supplies to thousands of people, who’ve been displaced by Ugandan rebel attacks. However, the area is very large and very insecure.

David Nthengwe, spokesman for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has just returned to Goma after spending recent weeks in Dungu in the northeast of the DRC. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the status of relief operations there.

“There are a lot of challenges that the humanitarian actors, including UNHCR, are facing. Any meaningful distribution of assistance will need some level of security for the humanitarian actors to be able to carry out their work. Currently, most of the areas are under a lot of insecurity and because of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) operations there,” he says.

The sheer size of Orientale Province, about the size of Spain, is adding to logistical difficulties.

“This is an emergency that has been going on for the past four or five months now. What it means is that many people still haven’t received any form of assistance. Many people are cut out in areas that are inaccessible and highly insecure,” he says.

He says that the humanitarian agencies are trying to determine “what is possible, what can be done.” Considering the insecurity in the northeastern region, the exact number of displaced is unclear.

“The displacement,” he says, “is on a large scale. We are talking about 150 to 200,000 people… And we are still counting in an area where there are around a million residents. Now, we will not be able to get to know the exact numbers of the displaced people because of again the prevailing insecurity situation and, at the same time, the logistics.”

Nthengwe says that there not enough soldiers in the area to fully protect humanitarian operations, even with the presence of UN peacekeeping troops, MONUC,

“The MONUC camp that is there is not enough. It’s insignificant when you look at the size of the area. MONUC is deployed at Dungu itself, but MONUC is not in most parts…where attacks have been carried out of late. And of course there are other forces, Ugandan (army) forces and then the FRDC (Congolese national army) forces in this area. But they, too, are challenged by the size of the area and the scale of attacks,” he says.

The UNHCR spokes says that it would take a lot more soldiers to provide adequate security.

Currently, humanitarian supplies are being brought to the area by truck convoys and planes. However, it takes a truck convoy as long as 10 days to travel from Goma to Dungu where the supplies will be dispersed. And while planes can make more frequent trips from Entebbe, Uganda, the airfield at Dungu has few facilities to handle the cargo.

“There is no warehousing. There is no infrastructure there.

And even if we were able to flood that airport with assistance this assistances would not be able to get to the affected people for weeks to come until the areas where these people are found are secure and there is some access.”