|"Thousands flee the town of Sake, 16 miles west of Goma, following fresh fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo town." (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images)|
By Pete Jones and David Smith
The Guardian, November 22, 2012
"A humanitarian crisis is looming in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, aid agencies have warned, after another day of fighting sent thousands of people fleeing for safety. About half a million people have been displaced by a violent rebellion since April. With state control collapsing in large swaths of the east, there are severe food shortages and a heightened risk of cholera and other diseases. The rebel militia M23 -- widely believed to be backed by Rwanda -- holds the major city of Goma but was taken by surprise on Thursday in the village of Sake, 16 miles (26km) away, when government soldiers launched a counter-offensive, opening fire from surrounding hills. M23 sent four truckloads of reinforcements from Goma but reports indicated that the rebels were forced to pull back towards the city. M23 military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Vianney Kazarama said: 'It is war, of course there is fighting.' The violence in Sake forced thousands of people to take flight, a familiar pattern in recent days that has seen huge numbers of civilians on the move with whatever possessions they can carry. At Mugunga, a sprawling refugee camp halfway between Goma and Sake, the numbers of displaced seeking shelter have soared. 'Before [the fighting] we had 15,000 people here,' said Jean Sindi Dunia, the principal police commissioner in Mugunga's third camp. 'Now we have displaced people arriving from Kanyaruchina [another camp north of Goma]. We haven't yet worked out exactly how many are here but we think the numbers have tripled.' Those fleeing in terror find only overcrowded, unsanitary conditions in the poorly-supplied camps. 'There is famine in the camp since last Sunday,' Dunia added. 'We received many displaced with nothing to eat. Even to find shelter for them is very difficult. We ask the international agencies to come to help these displaced people. The problem is food. People don't have enough to eat.'
Less than an hour after the attack at Sake, the administrative secretary at Mugunga, Mitima Muhima, confirmed that some 400 residents from the town had arrived, and spoke of the precarious conditions at the camp. 'The displaced population has not been well supported,' he said. 'Illnesses are not being treated and they can spread quickly when the population lives so close together. We're also finding weapons and bullets around the area following the instability. Above all the people here need the basics: food and shelter.' Locals spoke of how the constant movement had also left their homes vulnerable. Zachery, who declined to give his full name, said: 'People came and looted our goods. We don't know who it was, but someone looted our things after we had fled the fighting.' Oxfam said the recent conflict has left an estimated 120,000 people in urgent need of aid. Many are sleeping in the open or sheltering in schools and other buildings and are now without vital humanitarian assistance. Tariq Riebl, Oxfam's humanitarian coordinator, said: 'People are living in chaotic conditions. There are real fears that cholera and other fatal water-borne diseases could spread, as shortages of power and water in Goma have left thousands of people with no choice but to get water straight from Lake Kivu.' He added: 'The world is watching Goma but there are many towns and villages across eastern Congo completely forgotten and run by predatory men with guns. Across vast areas, people are stranded with little or no protection from security services.' [...]"