GOMA - United Nations agencies are appealing for additional funding to help people uprooted by conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Insecurity and the weather are proving to be major challenges for relief operations in the east of the country. The DRC’s most troubled province.
Life goes on at a displaced people’s camp on the outskirts of Goma, North Kivu’s capital. Children troop to the schoolhouse singing "Let’s go to school so we can learn religion, arithmetic and French."
At night the homeless take their place in the classroom and sleep under the desks. Outside, thousands more people who have fled conflict sleep in huts made of sticks and grass, covered with plastic sheets that don’t always keep out the floods.
There’s been one general food distribution to the 55,000 people at this informal camp at Kanyarucinya, a few kilometers to the north of Goma, since it was opened several months ago.
Everyone, including aid workers, agrees the food was seriously sub-standard.
Conditions are difficult here. One man said, "We don’t have enough to eat. We could die of hunger here because these beans they’ve given us are rotten."
But 60 kilometers away up in the mountains of Masisi territory, conditions appear to be even worse for thousands of other displaced people in the towns of Rubaya and Kibabi.
A large crowd in Rubaya this week said that they hadn’t had any outside help since July, when they fled from another camp after it was attacked by a militia. Many of them looked undernourished and in poor health.
We live like the birds, said one man. He said it was the people in Rubaya who gave them something to eat, a few potatoes now and then.
Mwanyera Baraka,12, spoke up, unprompted by anyone, when asked what they were getting to eat. He said that they ate little, sometimes once a day, when at home they could eat three times a day.
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) says it is currently getting food aid to 265,000 displaced people in North Kivu, but there are many others it’s also trying to reach.
"There’s also another 129,000 identified newly displaced people in the territory of Masisi who are in spontaneous sites and host families that we’re planning operations for in the very near future," noted Laura Parker who works for WFP in North Kivu. "So we’ve been able to reach the 265,000 targeted, but the big question is for the ones that we know exist and we know are vulnerable and we know need food aid, food assistance - the big question is how do we get our resources to them?"
With the start of rainy season many stretches of road in North Kivu have turned into a quagmire, particularly in Masisi and Walikale territory to the west.
"So we now have to reconsider what are our options in terms of transport, either by air or things like that, but again that can be super costly, which is already a challenge for WFP because our resources are severely limited, both financially and food," Parker added.
A big problem for aid agencies is that many of the displaced have not gone to official camps recognized by the government and the United Nations. Instead, they have settled at what are called spontaneous sites or with host families. This is often because they don’t want to go too far from their land, in case other people take it over.
"It’s a big challenge to assist those people because they don’t go through official registration processes, so it’s very difficult to get accurate numbers on them, their movements can be quite pendular with some of them going back to their fields during the day, and the spontaneous sites tend to be sometimes isolated and very difficult to access in terms of road conditions and security," Parker explained.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR says another reason many of the displaced have not gone to one of the 31 official camps in North Kivu is because they are not sure which camps are safe. Several have been attacked in recent months.
"It’s important that IDPs know, as soon as possible, where they can go to find security, and that the authorities know where the security conditions can be offered," said Christophe Beau who works for UNHCR in North Kivu.
The World Food Program is appealing for an extra $46 million to fund its emergency operations in the DRC. The money would be to cope with extra costs and to try to keep other operations going, such as its school feeding program which it has had to cut by 40 percent, and its aid to host families, which it has cut by 50 percent.
This week UNHCR also launched a supplementary appeal, for just under $40 million, to help forcibly displaced people in eastern Congo.
(The following statements from the World Food Program clarifies two inacurracies in the original version of the article.
"'WFP has checked the beans after IDPs complained about them and found that they were fit for consumption although hard and took a long time to cook. Food assistance at the camp is continuing through the distribution of food vouchers, which allow people to buy the food they want from local producers.")