"Urgent needs" along Solenyama-Blukwa axis in Ituri

Humanitarian aid is "urgently required" along the Solenyama-Blukwa road axis northeast of Bunia, the main town of Ituri District in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), international NGO German Agro Action (GAA) reported on Saturday.

The report follows a mission GAA conducted on 19 and 20 November, to assess road conditions, social infrastructure and the general humanitarian situation in the region. GAA also distributed hoes and fast-growing vegetable seeds in villages along the axis.

GAA said that the current security situation enabled humanitarian actors safe access to the population, while ongoing grassroots peace initiatives were establishing "a certain stability" in the area between Katoto and Blukwa.

"Both population and local authorities showed themselves satisfied with the presence of humanitarian actors in their area, as that would mean for them the end of years of being isolated from humanitarian assistance and outside contacts," GAA stated.

GAA added that it received repeated appeals for humanitarian aid to reinforce local peace initiatives.

While local community leaders, military and civilian authorities said they were "war weary and ready for peace", according to GAA, all Hema and Lendu military personnel questioned in Loga, Katoto and Blukwa said that they were opposed to cantonment. However, they favoured demobilisation - which they defined as "deposing arms and being reintegrated in an income-generation or education process without prior cantonment", GAA said.

With regard to social infrastructure - schools, health centres, markets and townships - GAA reported "total devastation" along the road between Lita and Masumbuko. Much of the population had fled to surrounding hills, where they had created semi-permanent settlements. Access to potable water as well as agricultural products was found to be extremely difficult, and numerous children showed signs of malnutrition, GAA said.

As for road conditions, GAA found that the Lita-Masumbuko section had been unused for the past two years, and was totally overgrown by bushes. However, the underlying road base, with an average width of four meters, was found to be largely intact.

The section of road between Masumbuko and Blukwa had been used regularly, and was found to be in a "relative good state", although lacking drainage channels and culverts. Furthermore, some 20 percent of the road had eroded, which would require a significant amount of manual labour in order to restore a durable surface.

Meanwhile, two bridges - one in Tso, 30 km north of Solenyama, the other in Tchuru, 37 km north of Solenyama - were found to be in poor condition, unable to support vehicles heavier than two metric tonnes.

Ituri District is a natural resource-rich region that has been devastated by several years of economically driven ethnic strife, resulting in the deaths of some 50,000 people and the displacement of another 500,000 since August 1998, when war in the Congo last erupted.