Situation in Ituri IDP camps "alarming" - MSF, OCHA

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) resumed its relief activities on Friday in camps for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ituri District, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after eight days of what has been described as an "alarming" health situation.

MSF reported on Friday that in Tché Camp, 60 km north of Bunia - the main town in Ituri - at least 25 people died in six days following lack of relief aid.

On Thursday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at least 10 people had been dying each day in the camps in and around Kakwa following the suspension of humanitarian aid to the area on 28 February. It said the death toll could be even higher in the camps of Tché and Gina.

OCHA said at least 70,000 people had fled their homes in Ituri's Djugu Territory since 12 December, when fighting broke out between two militia groups in the area. Humanitarian organisations suspended aid to over 54,000 of these people in the Kakwa, Tché and Gina areas, on 28 February due to security concerns.

They said the situation in Tché was also dire.

"The camp is a real mess and still expanding as 200 to 300 new IDPs have arrived," Patrick Barbier, the head of mission for MSF in Ituri, said.

He added: "There are many people suffering from diarrhoea and the sanitation in the camp is deteriorating rapidly."

Rape cases, including gang rapes, had also been continuing on a large scale with at least six cases reported in Tché, MSF said.

"People were welcoming with excitement and relief the arrival of medical assistance at a time when the general safety of people remains precarious," MSF said. "The population of the camp is now nearing 10,000 IDPs."

In Kakwa Camp, northeast of Bunia, near Lake Albert, another MSF team observed yet another serious deterioration of the health situation. Many cases of severe diarrhoea and dehydration were observed, apparently left untreated for days.

"A woman who had a complicated delivery, including severe loss of blood for the last two days, died during her transfer to Bunia," MSF said. "Between two and three deaths per day have been reported in the camp of 5,000 people, suggesting an increasingly high level of mortality."

MSF said it was setting up a nutritional facility in Kakwa Camp to attend to the moderate and severe malnutrition cases. A field admission care centre has also been established in Tchomia, situated on the shores of Lake Albert.

It said another medical team visited the village of Loga on Thursday, 30 km north of Bunia, a location where an operation by UN peacekeeping troops took place on 1 March.

"Distressed looking people welcomed our team as it entered Loga, a small market and trading place, which has been partially destroyed," MSF said.

It added no wounded were found in the village, but residents reported that several wounded people were hiding in the bush and were too scared to come out.

On Thursday, OCHA reported that medical aid had now restarted in Kakwa.

"However, continuing insecurity in the Tché and Gina areas means that vital medical aid to the 35,000 IDPs seeking shelter there remains cut off," OCHA said.

"The mortality rate in the camps is alarming," Modibo Traore, the OCHA head of office in Bunia, said. "Fortunately, humanitarians are now able to resume medical assistance to the displaced in Kakwa, but security is still preventing vital aid from reaching Tché and Gina. The humanitarian situation in those areas is now critical."