UN: Situation Report Uvira, Zaire 26 January 1996

UN: Situation Report Uvira, Zaire 26 January 1996


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During December 1995 escalating conflict in the Cibitoke and Bubanza provinces of north-west Burundi resulted in growing numbers of people seeking asylum in Uvira, Zaire. At the height of the exodus, 1000 Burundian refugees were arriving in Uvira every day. Following a recent DHA mission, this update focuses on the reception of Burundian refugees in Zaire, the conditions in the refugee camps, and the level of preparedness among Uvira-based humanitarian agencies for receiving future outflows of refugees.


Growing conflict in Cibitoke and Bubanza has been accompanied by increased reprisals against civilians in both of these provinces. Many thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, although the lack of access for humanitarian agencies precludes an accurate assessment of numbers. These people, after hiding in the hills, surviving as best they can, are now making their way across the border to Zaire.

The journey is a treacherous one, as west of Cibitoke the Rusizi Plain is extensively mined, while the Burundi army are attempting to seal the border area further south and are shooting at people who are trying to cross. Most refugees are therefore crossing the plain at night, before swimming the Rusizi River, which marks the border with Zaire. The largest crossing point in terms of numbers is the section of river to the west of Mount Zina.


Once across the border, people are directed towards Kibogoye transit camp, which numbers 16 000 refugees, of whom 7000 are recent arrivals. Currently, the number of new arrivals in Zaire is between 200 and 300 people per day, having fallen from its peak of 1000 a day at the end of December. The majority of people entering Zaire make their way directly to Kibogoye, although some are going directly on to other camps, to neighbouring villages or Uvira town itself.

At Kibogoye camp the new arrivals are interviewed by UNHCR. The vast majority are registered, although a number of single young men have not been accepted as bone fide refugees. All new arrivals at Kibogoye, whether accepted refugees or not, qualify for the general food ration. People who have gone directly to other camps must return to Kibogoye in order to qualify for the food ration.

Although always intended as a short-stay transit camp, the slow onward transfer of refugees during December and the first half of January has lead to increasingly crowded conditions at Kibogoye. The lack of space to build new family shelters has led to a large number of people crowding under a single hanger, conditions conducive to the rapid spread of infections.

The lack of space combined with the apparent absence of adequate health mobilisation has resulted in extremely poor sanitary conditions, with half-built latrines and an unenclosed defecation site in close proximity to the refugees. There are few opportunities for refugees to wash themselves, as there are no showers in the camp.

Five cases of severe malnutrition were recently discovered, but because of patchy health screening earlier this month it is not known whether this reflects conditions for displaced people in Burundi or whether people are falling outside the distribution at Kibogoye.

A growing awareness of the seriousness of the situation among the agencies responsible for the camp has, in recent days, begun to result in appropriate measures being undertaken. UNHCR, responsible for transferring refugees to other camps, is now doing so in ever-increasing numbers, while a nurse and community health worker have been stationed in the camp full-time to ensure that a thorough health and nutritional screening takes place.


There are eleven refugee camps in Uvira, home to an estimated 171,000 refugees, of whom 92,000 are Burundians and 65,000 are Rwandans (UNHCR, 31.12.95). These numbers are not reliable, however, as the last census took place in March 1995, since which time there has been an influx of Rwandan refugees from Kibeho camp in April and May 1995, the Zairean Government's refoulment of refugees in August 1995, as well as the recent influx of Burundian refugees.

Any estimate of the number of refugees in Uvira as a whole is further complicated by refugee movements between camps, by people from border villages registering as refugees, and by unregistered people from Burundi living with friends and relatives and migrating to and from Burundi for work. It seems very likely that the current camp figures substantially overestimate the camp population. A recent census for Kibogoye camp, for example, brought the figure down from an estimated 25,000 to the current figure of 16,000. UNHCR has committed itself to a new census of all the camps in February.


Water, in the majority of cases is pumped from the Rusizi River and of an adequate quantity in most of the Uvira camps, above UNHCR's 1995 target (for Uvira) of 10 litres per person per day. If and when there are inadequate quantities, it appears to be the result of water management. The figure for a representative Uvira camp -- Kajembo, with a population of 23,000, is 12.2 litres per person per day, compared to 14.8 litres per person per day for Katale camp in Goma with a population of 200,000.

Sanitation, however, is of a less high standard, with many latrines of poor quality, and significantly larger numbers of people per latrine than is the case in Goma. The figure for Uvira's Kajembo camp is 86 people per drop hole, in comparison with Katale camp's figure of 18 people per drop hole (UNHCR's global target figure is 20). In addition, there are no showers in the camps at Uvira; in Goma there are over 1000.

In terms of food, agencies are meeting their target of 2057 Kcal per person per day; the ration includes maize grain, maize flour, CSB (corn, soya, beans), beans, oil and salt. Distribution takes place in A and B pools in alternate weeks; thus each camp receives a distribution every fortnight. New arrivals who have gone directly to one of the camps instead of Kibogoye transit camp may therefore have to wait up to thirteen days before the next distribution, at which point they may be lucky enough to get some food from a registered refugee.

The global malnutrition rate for the camps is 5.6% (of the under-five population), while malnutrition rates among adults have recently risen. MSF-Holland, concerned about adult malnutrition rates, is developing a programme specifically to counteract this. None of the other main health indicators - such as diahhorea and cholera - are currently a cause for concern.


At the current level of influx of between 200 and 300 refugees per day, existing camp capacity (about 25,000) will be full within three months. UNHCR are therefore negotiating for an additional site near to Luberizi camp, about 70 km north of Uvira town, which could settle an additional 40,000-50,000 refugees. UNHCR also believes that improved camp management will reveal there to be more capacity than is currently available.

If the influx remains at a steady 200 or 300 people a day, it appears that the agencies currently present in Uvira will be able to scale up to meet the additional needs. However, if a very large influx were to take place (for example 20,000 people), or if a number of successive large influxes were to happen (for example, 5,000 people per day over a number of days), an emergency situation could easily arise.

The sector of greatest concern is that of water and sanitation, the first priority in an emergency. The concern arises because none of the agencies with a presence in Uvira have the technical capacity to respond on the scale that would be required. In terms of physical assets, Oxfam have a water contingency stock for 50,000 which could be used if a very large-scale influx were to occur.

In the food sector, WFP is currently bringing in about 700 tonnes a week, which comes from Dar es Salaam, where they have stocks of over 8,000 tonnes. The time from order to arrival is about two weeks - the route being from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma by train, and then by barge down the lake to Uvira. The bottlenecks are at the ports - and WFP is asking for donor assistance to speed the port operations up. In the event of an emergency, WFP plans to airlift food straight to Bukavu and truck it south to Uvira.

One of the most important facets of any emergency response would be coordination between all the different agencies, and UNHCR's former Water Coordinator for Uvira, Jo Comerford, has argued for the establishment of an interagency coordination committee to coordinate both the current scaling up and any future emergency response. It is to be hoped that this proposal will come under serious consideration.


From: (Ben Parker) Date: 27 Jan 96 11:55:02 +0300 Subject: Uvira, Zaire Message-Id: <>