Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

Democratic Republic of the Congo: ever more displaced people and war casualties

Publisher International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Publication Date 27 September 2012
Cite as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Democratic Republic of the Congo: ever more displaced people and war casualties, 27 September 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50654e6e2.html [accessed 21 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

With various regional and international initiatives under way to resolve the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the ICRC is pressing ahead with its efforts to bring aid to civilians directly affected by conflict and to casualties and detainees.

"The security in the east of the country has deteriorated further," said Franz Rauchenstein, the head of the ICRC delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "People in areas where there is a high level of violence are hit very hard. Because the situation is rapidly and steadily worsening, the ability of people to meet their needs is being severely tested."

It is often difficult to quickly reach remote areas beset by violence, because it takes time for reports of violence to arrive and because security conditions are unfavourable.

"The plight of civilians is extremely worrying," added Mr Rauchenstein. "We are calling on all concerned to ensure that civilians and persons hors de combat are protected and spared the effects of violence."

Increasing numbers of displaced people

More than 10,000 displaced people have gathered in a makeshift camp, Magunga I, at the foot of the volcano Nyiragongo, west of Goma. The camp provides temporary accommodation for people who have fled the rising violence in North Kivu over the past several months. Among those in the camp are inhabitants of Masisi territory who managed to escape attacks on their villages. In August, in response to their utter destitution, the ICRC brought them corn flour, beans, cooking oil and items such as tarpaulins providing protection from the cold and rain, blankets, sleeping mats, and jerrycans for fetching water. It was able to do so thanks to the help provided by volunteers of the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "What we want most of all is help bringing peace back to our country, so that we can return home and work our fields," said Emmanuel, who has taken temporary refuge in the camp. "We want to go back and live normal lives again."

In South Kivu, in the far reaches of Shabunda territory in the west and Walungu territory in the east, other displaced people have gathered in the villages of Bisisi and Mutale, in the Kalonge area. "It all began when we had to flee the killing. When I heard gunshots in my village, I left everything behind me," said Mariam, one of the wives of the village chief. With her 10 children, she succeeded in building a makeshift shelter. Other displaced people have been taken in by resident families, and still others are without accommodation. Despite the lack of security and the poor condition of the roads, the ICRC managed to distribute more than 350 tonnes of food in Kalonge centre, the main town. With help from Congolese Red Cross volunteers, it provided almost 4,000 families with one-month food rations. "The ordeal of these displaced people is unfortunately just one example among so many in South Kivu," said Christian Cardon, an ICRC delegate in Bukavu.

An influx of war casualties

Since fighting resumed in North and South Kivu, the numbers of war casualties the ICRC has been attending to have risen from 30 per month at the beginning of the year to more than 80 per month in the last few months. Some civilian and military casualties in remote areas with no access to suitable care succumbed to injuries that might have been easily treated.

ICRC Chief Surgeon Dr Hassan Nasreddine travelled from the organization's Geneva headquarters to the eastern Congo at the beginning of September to assess casualty management and the ICRC's support for hospital facilities.

"War wounds are different from other wounds. The extent of tissue destruction and of contamination have nothing in common with what a surgeon encounters in civilian practice," said Dr Nasreddine. "Bullets and shrapnel strike at an astonishing speed and cause massive tissue destruction. If the wounds are not properly treated they can become infected and sometimes result in the patient's death. The treatment consists in completely removing all damaged tissue. The wounds have to be left open and steps need to be taken to prevent tetanus and gas gangrene, two conditions that can lead to death."

Civilian and military war casualties who undergo surgical treatment of the lower limbs are subsequently provided with physical rehabilitation by the ICRC.

To deal with the influx of war casualties in hospital facilities, the priority is to provide the patients with care and the facilities in the east of the country with support. The ICRC also supports the activities of Congolese Red Cross first-aid volunteers, in particular by providing them with stretchers, first-aid supplies and gloves.

"Our staff are also working elsewhere in the country, including in Eastern province," said Mr Rauchenstein. "They continue to visit detainees, help dispersed families reunite, upgrade water sources, improve access to food and work together with the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The urgency of the situation in the east must not distract attention from the plight of others harmed by conflict or other violence."

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