GREAT LAKES: Humanitarian situation worsens significantly 19990830]

GREAT LAKES: Humanitarian situation worsens significantly 19990830]

GREAT LAKES: Humanitarian situation worsens significantly

NAIROBI, 30 August (IRIN) - The last three months have brought a significant deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region, with best estimates showing a 19 percent increase in the number of affected people, who have themselves used up many of their coping strategies and become increasingly vulnerable.

The increase in affected population - from some 3.3 million in May to 3.9 million as of 19 August - was mostly attributable to "continued instability in the region arising from the intensification of military activities on various fronts", a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) stated, citing in particular the regional conflict affecting DRC and the internal conflicts in Uganda, Republic of Congo and Burundi. The ongoing wars in Angola and Sudan have also contributed to increased numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees and other vulnerable groups, it added.

Urgent measures needed to be taken to alleviate the suffering of affected populations - varying from emergency assistance in DRC, Republic of Congo, parts of Uganda and Tanzanian refugee camps, to shelter and reintegration efforts in Rwanda and Burundi - but donor response to the various consolidated appeals remained poor, the report said. "The affected populations of the Great Lakes Region have become more vulnerable in the last quarter", it added. "As the population remains dispersed for longer, the weaker is its position."

During the last quarter, a complex pattern of "web-like military confrontations led to an incessant in-and-out movement of populations fleeing zones of combat, seeking safe haven or attempting to return to their areas/countries of origin", the UN OCHA report on "Affected Populations in the Great Lakes Region" stated.

Drawing on information from governments, local authorities, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, it said this process of continuous, inter-related displacements had resulted in "a generally deplorable state of health of the concerned populations" on top of thousands of civilian deaths arising from exhaustion, disease, epidemics, malnutrition and direct conflict.

The total affected population of 3,932,421 included 2,745,467 internally displaced: some 617,108 in Burundi, 331,625 in Republic of Congo, 755,000 in DRC, 508,525 in Rwanda and 533,209 in Uganda (figures not available for Tanzania), according to the UN OCHA report.

Also included in the affected population were 1,042,408 refugees, of whom 22,161 were in Burundi, 28,647 in the Republic of Congo, 282,000 in Rwanda, 393,257 in Tanzania and 195,064 in Uganda (plus 87,568 other refugees in countries outside the Great Lakes region), the report added.

Another category of affected people was unaccompanied and/or abducted children, which accounted for 20,348 of the total: 6,803 in Burundi; 234 in Republic of Congo; 6,569 in Rwanda; 1,938 in Tanzania; and 4,804 in Uganda (apart from an unknown number in DRC), it said.

The greatest increase in IDPs in the region was registered in the DRC, where the number of displaced people now stood at three quarters of a million people - many of them inaccessible to humanitarian workers because of insecurity, the report stated. The last quarter has also seen citizens of the DRC flee to Republic of Congo, Zambia and Tanzania, Rwandan and Sudanese refugees flee DRC to Republic of Congo and Uganda respectively, and thousands of Angolans fleeing their own country for DRC, it added.

In Republic of Congo, meanwhile, previously displaced people were forced to flee again, some of them to DRC and then to their own country again, others to Gabon. In the Bundibugyo district of western Uganda, nearly 80 percent of the population was displaced; elsewhere, many Rwandan refugees continued to return from DRC, some Burundians were repatriated from Tanzania and thousands more fled fighting in the country to go to Tanzania, the report added.

This milling of unfortunate human beings within and between the countries of the region continued to be of serious concern, "especially in light of the limited capacity of humanitarian organisations to address the needs of the affected populations", UN OCHA stated. While the number of displaced people was rising (as were malnutrition rates, epidemics and disease), human rights violations, looting and extortion darkened the picture even further.

In a situation where chronic insecurity and inadequate funding "diminished the response capacity" and host communities were frequently "submerged and exhausted by large influxes of IDPs", additional donor support and "a more equitable distribution of these funds within the region" were urgently required, the UN OCHA report concluded.

NAIROBI, 30 August, 16:00 GMT


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Item: irin-english-1512

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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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