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Conflict in North Kivu, DRC: over a hundred thousand people living in disastrous conditions without clean water

Oxfam Australia 2 mins read

More than 133,000 people who fled the fighting in North Kivu, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), live in unimaginable conditions without one single toilet or water, posing serious consequences for their health and safety, warns Oxfam.

Oxfam staff report that people are forced to pay US$0.40 to use the host communities’ toilets or showers, a fee that many simply cannot afford having lost everything to the conflict.

The situation is particularly dire for women who have to walk up to 25km to fetch water, a perilous 4-hour journey that exposes them to violence from armed groups. Staff have also reported increased cases of diarrhea as a result of lack of clean water and hygiene, with some deaths already reported.   

Oxfam's Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Justine Gomis Tossou, said:

“The needs far outstrip resources. Sites are overcrowded, people are sleeping in the open air or crammed into sheds, hospitals or schools which make them inoperable. Others have built their own makeshift camps and are without water, food or assistance with a high risk of disease outbreak and food insecurity. Women are highly vulnerable and exposed to sexual exploitation and abuse.”

In one of the makeshift camps, an Oxfam staff member met a mother of four who fled the fighting with one of her sons having lost contact with her three other children and husband. Alone and vulnerable, she was raped by a group of armed men as she ventured into the forest to find firewood, in the hope of selling it to buy a meagre ration of food and water.

“Even after such a horrific ordeal, she still had to find the courage to fetch firewood, her only means to feed her remaining child,” said the staff member.

Displacement camps where Oxfam has worked since last year are overcrowded with overflowing latrines becoming a pressing issue. Many have gone for weeks without a shower, significantly increasing the risk of disease including cholera which is on the rise in North and South Kivu: more than 20,000 cases of cholera were recorded in the first six months of 2023, a threefold increase on the same period in 2022, according to UNICEF.

Oxfam is already helping 28,500 people in displacement camps by distributing drinking water and building latrines and showers, but urgently needs US$4 million to ramp up its operations.

Funding for the humanitarian needs in DRC is already meagre with only 39.5% of the United Nations humanitarian appeal for DRC having been filled to date, despite the country facing one of the world's biggest food emergencies.

"Urgent support is needed to avert catastrophe. It is time for collective and responsible action to reverse the disasters and suffering of the people of the DRC, and to put the country's wealth at the service of the population," said Mrs Tossou.

For interviews with spokespeople in the region, contact Lily Partland on 0418 118 687 / lilyp@oxfam.org.au 

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