A volunteer brings daily food rations for internally displaced persons (IDPs), at a camp for IDPs fleeing the conflict in the DRC's Kasai province, June 7, 2017, in Kikwit, DRC.
A volunteer brings daily food rations for internally displaced persons (IDPs), at a camp for IDPs fleeing the conflict in the DRC's Kasai province, June 7, 2017, in Kikwit, DRC.

GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency warns an estimated 1.5 million homeless people in Democratic Republic of Congo are destitute and vulnerable to diseases and exploitation.

A UNHCR survey of seven of DR Congo's 26 provinces finds around 1.5 million people in these areas of conflict have had their homes damaged or destroyed.  U.N. refugee spokesman Charlie Yaxley says the limited scope of the survey presents only a partial picture of homelessness throughout the country.

He says the true number of those displaced by deadly clashes between armed groups and government forces is probably higher.  He tells VOA there continues to be a steady number of attacks in the eastern part of the country, particularly in the province of Ituri.  He says violence there has increased significantly since September.

"We have had 100,000 newly displaced people, specifically in Ituri since September alone and that is placing even more strain and pressure on the humanitarian response there," Yaxley said. "And, in the eastern part of the country many people are being left without shelter and homes simply because humanitarian organizations are having difficulties with access."  

Yaxley says the situation of access is especially difficult in North Kivu, which is in the midst of a virulent Ebola epidemic.

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"People also reportedly are reluctant to come forward out of fear from attacks by armed groups…And, once you throw in Ebola in there as well, on all measures people are in urgent and dire need of more support," Yaxley said.

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The United States has renewed its travel advisory, warning citizens not to go to Eastern DRC and the three Kasai provinces because of the dangers.  The United Kingdom, Canada and other countries have issued similar travel alerts.

The UNHCR says it is short of cash to help the many people who lack proper shelter.  It says they have little protection against the elements or intruders.   It says they are exposed to sickness and disease.   It says women and girls in spontaneous settlements are at great risk of sexual violence.  

The agency reports less than half of its $200 million budget for this year's humanitarian operations in DRC is covered.  It is appealing to donors to fill this gap.