Monday, 10 November 2008
Ceasefire Broken in Democratic Republic of Congo; International Medical Corps Warns of Looming Humanitarian Catastrophe and Wider Regional Impact
November 10, 2008, Los Angeles, Calif. – As fighting resumed Friday in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and rebels appeared poised to seize Goma, International Medical Corps is deeply concerned that a humanitarian catastrophe could unfold and quickly spread across the region.
In addition to ongoing efforts in DRC, International Medical Corps is also preparing a regional response to the situation and currently has teams mobilized in Uganda and Burundi to deliver assistance to the potential influx of new refugees.
“The delivery of life-saving medical and nutrition services has already been severely curtailed,” said Pierre Willems, International Medical Corps’ Country Director in DRC. “With the resumption of fighting, even more people will be displaced and in need of care, and yet we fear the humanitarian corridor for delivering assistance is narrowing drastically by the hour.”
An estimated 200,000 civilians have fled fighting between government and rebel troops in North Kivu Province – adding to the estimated one million people displaced by an escalation of hostilities in the region a year ago.
Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda declared a unilateral ceasefire over the weekend, and so far it has held. However, a rebel spokesman has said the groundwork is being laid for a generalized war in the region.
International Medical Corps has been operating in the most volatile regions of DRC since the mid-90’s. In North Kivu province, where much of the recent fighting has taken place, IMC runs primary health care clinics and nutrition programs that serve more than 300,000 people.
11 November 2008
Next door, nearby, the Congo – it’s ALL our world isn’t it?
No matter how well or poorly our day is going, we are fortunate when we compare any aspect of our lives to that of the refugees attempting escape from the horrors that have occurred in the past, continued, and now again permeate the Congo with death and despair.
Last week, widespread attacks by rebel groups displaced enormous numbers of people. More than 200,000 fled the fighting and sought refuge in communities and displacement camps near the besieged city of Goma, swelling the ranks of the displaced in and around that city to about one million people. The situation is becoming critical. There are over 200,000 newly displaced persons, in addition to the 850,000 that were already displaced in the areas around Goma. The water and sanitation needs are enormous – this reported by the BBC.
Other reports state that “Nkunda (the rebel leader) declared a cease-fire on October 29 as his forces reached the edge of Goma, but there have been sporadic clashes since then.
Some 50,000 refugees have crowded around Kibati, some taken into log cabins by villagers, others living in tents or hastily built beehive-shaped huts. Thousands are sleeping out in the open, and they huddled under plastic sheeting Sunday as heavy rain pounded down.
Dozens of people have died of cholera in recent weeks elsewhere in eastern Congo. Doctors also fear an epidemic north of Goma behind rebel lines, where access has been limited by fighting and rebels have driven tens of thousands of people from camps where outbreaks had been contained.
At a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers Monday, Germany and Britain opposed sending EU troops to Congo, despite France's urging that a battlegroup be sent.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the EU's role should be to encourage the African Union to do more militarily while promoting a political solution.
He welcomed a declaration made at a summit of southern African leaders on Sunday that said African countries could send peacekeepers if needed to help the U.N. force.
"It will be for every country of the world really to consider its own position," Miliband said. "What's significant about the talks on the weekend is the clear determination from African leaders to make sure their countries are in the lead politically and militarily."
As more and more people are displaced and the dead bodies pile up from the fighting and it becomes impossible to return home, to find food or clean water – disease will not just rear its head in multiple incarnations and manifestations, but will ravage the refugee population without quarter. Cholera has already made an appearance and the numbers are rising daily, more than fifty cases since Friday. There has been scattered fighting over the weekend that gives concern that patients could scatter and launch an epidemic.
The fighting has ceased for the moment but apparently only for the opposing sides to regroup. And what is the fighting about? Is it for freedom from oppression? Is it to redress a wrong? Is it to bring justice to a people? NO. It’s about mineral rights! It’s about money and power.
Demand for minerals has fueled Congo's conflicts for years. Nkunda has complained about a $9 billion agreement in which China gets access to Congo's minerals in return for building a highway and railroad that would open up the remote mining interior to southern neighbors.
The fighting in eastern Congo is fueled by ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of at least 500,000 Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda.
Gen. Laurent Nkunda, whose rebels launched an offensive Aug. 28, has said he is fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu militants who participated in the genocide before fleeing to Congo. I have some trouble buying that explanation myself but that’s just me.
Nkunda's rebellion has threatened to re-ignite the back-to-back wars that afflicted Congo from 1996 to 2002, drawing in a half dozen African nations. Kabila, elected in 2006 in Congo's first election in 40 years, has struggled to contain the violence in the east.
Nkunda began a low-level insurgency in 2004, claiming Congo's transition to democracy had excluded the Tutsi ethnic group. Despite agreeing in January to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, he resumed fighting in August.
Congo has charged Nkunda with involvement in war crimes, and Human Rights Watch says it has documented summary executions, torture and rape committed by soldiers under Nkunda's command in 2002 and 2004.
All sides also are believed to fund fighters by illegally mining Congo's vast mineral riches, giving them no financial interest in stopping the fighting.
The European Union decided Friday against sending troops into Congo, saying the 27-member bloc will instead focus on a diplomatic solution to end the conflict.
Here is my concern – the civilians who are dying, the mothers and children and fathers and brothers who can’t go home, who can’t feed their families or even give them clean water.
"We've had nothing to eat for three days," said Rhema Harerimana, traveling with one baby nursing at her breast, another on her back and a toddler clinging to her skirt.
Harerimana said she had been on the run for five days but was heading home to Kibumba, about 17 miles from the eastern provincial capital of Goma, where rebels halted their advance Wednesday and called for a cease-fire.”
I don’t care to whom you contribute – the International Medical Corp seems to be doing good work and my personal chaps Doctors Without Borders are there. Let us all be so very grateful for all that we have and share a bit eh? It is not a zero sum game – giving to their dire situation will not affect in any sever manner our surplus. Think of the benefits, the benevolent selfishness – you will be helping to save part of the world, nothing less, and you get to feel bloody fantastic about doing SOMETHING! If you do nothing else, please remember these desperate people in your prayers to whatever deity works for you. I thank you, and thank you for coming by.
From NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/10/world/africa/10congo.html
• From AP: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-AF-Congo-Fighting.html
• From Reuters: http://africa.reuters.com/top/news/usnJOE4A701R.html