Blog - ECHO in the field

Once again civilians flee…

Congo's long-standing conflict in the eastern part of the country has taken its toll on civilians, who are often uprooted from their homes and forced to flee

Congo's long-standing conflict in the eastern part of the country has taken its toll on civilians, who are often uprooted from their homes and forced to flee

23/11/2012 - This week, our TV screens and social media channels have been riddled with violence, death and fleeing civilians. Humanitarian agencies remain present, where possible to address the life-saving needs of the most vulnerable populations.

In addition to the Middle East – the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and the ongoing fighting in Syria – this week has seen the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in turmoil. The escalating violence over the last months has now culminated with the M23 rebels taking over the city of Goma.

It is clear, in all cases, that civilians bear the brunt of war; the most vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and the disabled even more so. Civilians in eastern DRC have for far too long borne the brunt of armed conflict by being exposed to looting, abductions, sexual violence, killing and maiming as well as forced or harmful labour, risk of recruitment, use as child soldiers and family separations. 

Reaching the people in need, being able to independently assess their needs and safely deliver emergency humanitarian assistance in a timely and impartial manner, is crucial for saving lives in such crises.

I was in eastern DRC in September this year. I met numerous internally displaced persons (IDPs) who, in 2011, had fled South Kivu, especially Galula and had made their way to Katanga Province.

Yesim, who was orphaned young, has a wife and three children and looks after his five siblings. In his almost thirty-year lifetime he has had to flee fighting in his native South Kivu three times: in 1997, 2006 and again in 2011. The recent renewed fighting in Eastern DRC has caused large population movements, as civilians run for their lives yet again.

There are 2.4 million IDPs within the country and a further 420.000 who have taken refuge outside the country in Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya. Humanitarians are not always able to access people in need due to security, and protection is a huge concern, especially for the most vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly.

The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has a large team in DRC. From Goma, Bukavu, Bunia and Kinshasa, ECHO humanitarian advisers cover four out of the 11 Provinces with humanitarian assistance in Africa’s second largest country, which is 80 times the size of Belgium.

ECHO funds also support a humanitarian flight service to reach the most inaccessible areas – especially where commercial flights do not venture and where there are no air strips to speak of.  In August, ECHO added one helicopter to the three planes already in service to ship humanitarian goods and personnel, specifically to reach the IDPs forced to flee into the bush.

This week, there is a small sliver of a silver lining amid the clouds of mayhem; expressions of gratitude from our humanitarian partners, the UN and NGOs who work with us in DRC, for the helicopter thanks to the generosity and solidarity of European tax payers. Since August 2012, the helicopter has flown 98 hours over 42 days carrying 647 passengers and 28 tons of humanitarian cargo. 

Why is this significant?  Because it means that at this time, when the Congolese population are most in need and in security may impede full unfettered access, there will be stocks of medicines, food, shelter kits in place at certain humanitarian project sites and hopefully, no obstacles for the needy to receive them.

Here is an extract from Merlin, one of our humanitarian partners in DRC:

…souhaite exprimer mon immense gratitude quant à la récente mise à disposition d’un hélicoptère ECHO au Nord Kivu.  Au cours des dernières semaines, nous avons pu acheminer grâce à cet appareil des stocks essentiels de médicaments au-dessus des zones instables rendues dangereuse d’accès.” Provincial Director- Merlin

Translation: (“… I would like to express my immense gratitude to ECHO for putting a helicopter at our disposition in North Kivu.  Thanks to this helicopter, over the past few weeks we have been able to drop stocks of essential medical supplies to the unstable areas which have been rendered inaccessible.“)

By Malini Morzaria, Regional Information Officer

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