Ituri clashes worsen humanitarian situation in the west - report

Continued ethnic clashes in Ituri District, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), have resulted in a steady increase of refugees into the western Ugandan district of Bundibugyo, worsening an already critical humanitarian situation in the district, a new report says.

According to the latest humanitarian update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the influx of refugees into Bundibugyo over the past two months has reached 14,700, and is already affecting sanitation and the distribution of food and other consumer items in the district.

The areas most affected by the influx include Kanara, Rwebishengo, Karogoto and Bundibugyo town, the report said.

"The community of Rwebishengo is largely pastoralist and reliant on the market for all its food and other requirements. As a result, the influx will inevitably have an effect on food prices and other items," the report said, adding that the cost of renting a room in Bundibugyo town had already shot up from about US $2 to $10 a month.

Clashes between the Hema and the Lendu communities in the DRC have been going on for decades. However, they have intensified over the last 18 months, resulting in a steady influx of refugees into western Uganda, particularly Bundibugyo and Nebbi districts.

In the past two months, the ethnic clashes resulting from the withdrawal of the remnants of the Ugandan army from the DRC has led to the latest influx. The report noted that the recent calming of the situation in Ituri as a result of international intervention had lessened the influx over the past two weeks.

Bundibugyo is one of a number of western Ugandan districts recently hit by a cholera outbreak. In addition, the report said, the refugees from the DRC arrived with some 12,745 cattle, many of which were suffering from various contagious cattle diseases and needed urgent vaccination.

At one time, Bundibugyo, which is also recovering from an insurgency by the rebel Ugandan group, the Allied Democratic Forces, had an internally displaced population of some 120,000. Acording to the OCHA report, however, up to 90 percent of the IDPs have returned to their homes voluntarily, as a result of the relative peace that has returned to most of the southwestern region.