UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
DRC: Population left alone to cope with the effects of war
UVIRA, 2 July (IRIN) - Local leaders and NGOs in Uvira are angry. Angry that they have to cope alone with the repercussions and humanitarian implications of ongoing conflict in their region. And left with the perception that the world has turned its back on them.
Officials of the rebel Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) fighting to overthrow President Laurent-Desire Kabila admit that constant war, coupled with traditional land conflicts, has set back development in the east of the country by 10 years.
Gertrude Kitembo, who heads the RCD's agriculture and rural development department, told IRIN one of the biggest problems is that of impassable roads in the areas she administers. Harvests cannot be moved, with the result that surplus products are rotting in the villages and peasants are unable to buy market goods such as soap, oil and salt.
Since the current war broke out last August, some 30,000 people have been displaced from areas south of Uvira, most of them fleeing Mayi-Mayi militia attacks into the town, where resources and space are severely constrained. According to UN estimates, around 200,000 people are displaced throughout South Kivu. With the exception of ICRC, Food for the Hungry International (FHI) and Action contre la faim (ACF), which have small programmes in Uvira, the bulk of humanitarian work is carried out by local NGOs who do not have the means to tackle the daunting task.
Much of the load falls on CARITAS, funded by its international network, but with current contracts about to expire, its director Dr Miteyo Nyenge is concerned that due to the Kosovo crisis, there will be little left for his region. Most international aid agencies pulled out after their premises were attacked and looted by both sides during the early stages of the war. In Uvira, they have yet to return. Local NGOs are sceptical about international humanitarian assessment missions, saying there is "never any follow-up". Dr Nyenge believes there is a "lack of will".
International humanitarian sources admit that follow-up to the assessment missions has been minimal and that the issues of looted property and insecurity only partially justify the limited response.
South Kivu is facing a prolonged drought. The rains failed earlier in the year and aid officials in Uvira say there is not enough food to last until the next harvest in September. "People are living in misery," Dr Nyenge said. Civil servants are not paid and parents are now reportedly supporting the schools, so that many children are missing out on education. RCD officials acknowledge the "lack of means", and admit that many of the available resources are going towards the war effort.
Representatives of local NGO groups say that because of internal displacement, agricultural cultivation is suffering. Tension is making people flee their homes. Small businessmen cannot replenish their stocks, so commerce is also affected. National aid workers cite the internationals as saying they "need Kabila's permission to work in the region". "But nobody asked Milosevic's permission," they add.
Many of the displaced arriving in South Kivu are Congolese Tutsi Banyamulenge from Katanga province who have been resettled in the Rusizi plain. Some are trying to regain the traditional homeland of the Banyamulenge in the Hauts Plateaux, a remote and inaccessible area subject to frequent Mayi-Mayi attacks. NGOs say many of the other ethnic groups inhabiting the Hauts Plateaux, such as the Bafulero and Babembe, had fled to the forests and are now returning in a "calamitous state".
The region at large is still reeling from the effects of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees who fled there in 1994. Many of the refugees have since returned home, but the Kivus have not recovered. Gertrude Kitembo notes that in North Kivu, since 1994, the number of head of cattle has decreased from 500,000 to 5,000. In South Kivu, the situation is not much better - only 10,000 head of cattle remaining. Military personnel have now been deployed in the national parks, where refugees are still hiding out, to prevent further destruction and the killing of wild animals.
Local people face an uncertain future. Many are not convinced the war will result in an improvement in their lives and accuse the RCD of "not keeping them informed". The recent bombings of Uvira by Kabila's forces added to the confusion. Although the local authorities and NGOs say stability has returned to Uvira, the population still needs reassurances for the future. Otherwise, as one NGO remarked, the region faces a growing problem of "enclavement" due to lack of access and insecurity.
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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D
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