Sharp drop in aid to the east after Bukavu fighting

Nearly 80 percent of humanitarian aid, covering some five million people, has been suspended in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), following fighting in late May and early June in the town of Bukavu, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Saturday.

The fighting in the South Kivu provincial capital pitted army loyalists against dissidents. It led to violent anti-UN protests in several areas of the country. In the capital, Kinshasa, the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, withdrew nonessential staff.

Several UN and NGO facilities were attacked and pillaged in South Kivu, in the other eastern provinces of North Kivu and Maniema, as well as in northern areas of Katanga Province. OCHA said the deteriorating security situation had prompted many humanitarian organisations to suspend operations and temporarily evacuate their expatriate staff.

It reported that several international organisations had relocated from eastern DRC since the fighting began on 26 May. A MONUC military spokesman, Maj Abou Thiam, told IRIN on Monday that at least 13 organisations had relocated from the area.

"The approximately five million people in the area are entirely cut off from assistance," OCHA said, quoting MONUC's humanitarian section. A timetable for when relief efforts could resume would depend on the security situation, it added.

On Friday, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland called on "those involved in the recent fighting to provide humanitarian workers with the safe and unhindered access they need to deliver aid to affected population".

OCHA reported that all sectors of humanitarian aid had been affected, including food security, health care, water and education. The people living in the region were even more dependent on aid because of the fighting, OCHA added, noting that the situation had been further exacerbated by the continuing flow of refugees and internally displaced persons from South Kivu and northern Katanga.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that at least 2,700 Congolese had fled to neighbouring Rwanda in the last two weeks. It added that the number of Congolese refugees who had arrived in Burundi was in the thousands.

In light of recent looting and attacks, OCHA said, it wished to remind the public of the "humanitarian identity" of NGO and UN staff operating in country. It also proposed the creation of a liaison committee to establish better communication between local civil servants, the military and the international community.

OCHA reported that the UN, in conjunction with the EU, had begun discussions with Rwandan authorities to negotiate the reopening of the DRC-Rwandan border to humanitarian workers. Rwanda closed its border with the DRC following accusations by DRC authorities of involvement in the Bukavu fighting.