Red Cross warns of 'immense crisis' in DR Congo

Congo The latest fighting in eastern DR Congo has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing towards the provincial capital Goma.  By Guerchom Ndebo AFP
MAR 8, 2024 LISTEN
The latest fighting in eastern DR Congo has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing towards the provincial capital Goma. By Guerchom Ndebo (AFP)

The Red Cross on Friday said clashes in the Democratic Republic of Congo had triggered an "immense" crisis that risked going unnoticed and appealing for nearly $60 million to provide desperately-needed aid.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the world's largest humanitarian network, warned of an "alarming escalation" of violence in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, on the DR Congo's eastern border.

The IFRC launched an emergency appeal for 50 million Swiss francs ($57 million) to urgently assist 500,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced persons and their host communities.

The United Nations said Wednesday that more than 100,000 people had been displaced this week, mostly from around the North Kivu town of Nyanzale, where some 80,000 people lived alongside tens of thousands who had already fled earlier fighting in the region.

M23 rebels seized more territory on Thursday as clashes continued, forcing yet more people to flee their homes.

After eight years of dormancy, the M23 rebellion took up arms again in late 2021, seizing large swathes of North Kivu -- cutting off all land access to its capital Goma except the Rwandan border road in early February.

Pierre Kremer, the IFRC's Africa deputy regional director, called it a "crisis of immense scale... that has not captured global attention as it should".

"People are living in extremely precarious conditions, at the brink of mental, physical, and financial collapse," he told a press briefing in Geneva, via video-link from Nairobi.

"Most aid reaches those in camps around Goma, yet it falls short against the magnitude of needs due to insufficient funding.

"Our appeal will enable the DRC Red Cross to scale up their efforts, using existing logistics and support structures to extend their reach among displaced families and host communities."

'Appalling conditions'

The UN estimated at the end of 2023 that nearly seven million people were displaced in DR Congo, including 2.5 million in North Kivu alone.

Last week in Goma, Kremer said he saw the "harsh realities" faced by thousands of displaced people, with many living under makeshift shelters made from rags and plastic bags.

"In one camp, now home to tens of thousands, the scarcity of basic amenities was alarming, with only four toilets for thousands," he said.

"The appalling conditions they live in, the struggle for basic needs such as food, water, and shelter, is a heart-wrenching reminder of the realities people face."

Kremer said the IFRC appeal would provide a lifeline to people who have "endured too much for too long".

The IFRC brings together more than 16 million volunteers around the world to help vulnerable people affected by disasters and health emergencies.