UNICEF Supports Families Caught in Conflict in the DRC
Children and their families are on the front lines of a conflict in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Over the past week, fighting between the rebel group M23 (The 23 March Movement) and the Congolese Army has endangered and displaced thousands of people.
“We are on the ground and are reaching out to children affected by the crisis,” says UNICEF Representative in the DRC Barbara Bentein.
“Within 24 hours after fighting erupted, we distributed high-energy biscuits to children, and we will continue to respond to their urgent needs, as the situation evolves.”
Last Sunday, a UNICEF supply driver, Mansour Rwagaza, heard gunshots and shelling as he pulled up to a community centre with 20,000 high-energy biscuits for displaced children.
“I was 500 metres from the front line, but I was ready to save those children!” he says.
When one mother received the biscuits, she exclaimed with tears in her eyes, “UNICEF saved my son. He was so weak after two days without food.”
UNICEF’s rapid response to the crisis was made possible through strong ties with both local and international partners.
This teamwork enabled the establishment of a local network to locate and register unaccompanied minors so they might be reunited with their families, as well as widespread mine-risk education and treatment centres for malnourished children.
As the conflict threatens to spill into other parts of the country, UNICEF is scaling up efforts to have children currently associated with armed groups released and reintegrated into their communities.
In addition, UNICEF has improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities in order to head off the increased threat of water-borne diseases such as cholera.
As soon as the security situation permits, UNICEF and its partners will launch health interventions for displaced families, and emergency education programming for displaced children.
“We call on all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to protect the rights of all children. Their survival and well-being must be our shared concern,” says Ms. Bentein.
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As of November 2012, more than 2.4 million people are displaced within the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of fighting between the Congolese army and various rebel groups, including 1.6 million people in North and South Kivu. More than 60 percent of them are children and women.
Adapted from text by Cornelia Walther.