Humanitarian agencies in the eastern DRC are scrambling to locate displaced civilians and provide assistance following the M23 rebel group’s takeover of Goma. For years, the town has been the center of aid operations, but many programs have been suspended or disrupted.
John Abuya is in charge of ActionAid’s emergency preparedness and response. He said M23 rebels have addressed civilians in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu Province.
“According to our teams on the ground, the M23 is assuring the citizens and populations to stay calm – that they are there to protect them and that all business should run as normal,” he said.
The question remains whether the rebels will remain in Goma or try to extend their reach into neighboring South Kivu province.
“There’s speculation that the M23 would be closing in on or try to expand their hold on neighboring towns, especially the provincial capital of Bukavu,” said Abuya.
Some of the U.N. peacekeeping troops are reported in Bukavu.
ActionAid has programs addressing violence against women and poverty. Many thousands of women have been raped by the numerous armed groups that have operated in the eastern DRC. Rape has been used as a weapon of war to terrorize and subdue the population.
Abuya said, “Before this latest outbreak, there were quite a lot of reports of violence against women, especially rape. So, most of the women communities that we work with are afraid even to go out to fetch firewood in the forest and water. So there are such incidences.”
Some groups allege that M23 rebels have also been involved in violence against women.
“We are calling upon them to protect the lives of civilians. We are calling for humanitarian workers to gain access to the affected population. And we are calling upon them to protect the human rights of civilians in those areas,” he said.
ActionAid’s Abuya said women’s groups in neighboring countries are meeting to determine how to best show support for Congolese women.
VOA also reached UNICEF’S head of office in Goma, Jean Metenier. Over a poor phone connection he said there’s concern over the sanitation situation because there’s no water or electricity service. There are also some cholera cases in Goma.
He said UNICEF is assisting about 150 unaccompanied children at the Don Bosco Catholic Center. However, there may be many more unaccompanied children among the thousands of people displaced by the fighting. The agency is also taking a survey to determine whether some of the displaced have found shelter with host families in the area.
Metenier said while UNICEF has some supplies in Goma, it needs more to help the displaced and deal with the cholera cases.
Oxfam International has issued a statement saying, “This new catastrophe must be the final wake up call for the United Nations, the African Union, regional institutions and governments to move to action.” It adds,” With almost 2.5 million people now displaced across eastern Congo, this catastrophe needs the humanitarian and diplomatic response to be urgently stepped up.”