On Tuesday, November 20, the city of Goma in North Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, fell to the M23 militia (M23), following clashes with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC).
Handicap International, which has offices in Goma and runs multiple programs in the region, was forced to suspend its activities. As the situation deteriorates, the most vulnerable people, who receive daily support from the organization, have been hit particularly hard.
Since fighting erupted between M23 and the FARDC earlier this year, many families have been internally displaced within the conflict zones of North and South Kivu Provinces or forced to flee to neighboring countries. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) nearly 650,000 people have been uprooted. In recent weeks, 60,000 people living in the Kanyaruchinya displaced persons camp four miles to the north of Goma have deserted the area.
Handicap International has been performing emergency and development actions in war-torn North and South Kivu since 1995. Our mine victim assistance projects and rehabilitation activities were suspended in the light of the current security situation. Our humanitarian logistics platform, which also transports humanitarian aid for other NGOs in the region, was also halted after it became impossible for the aid convoys to move around the region. Masisi, one of the districts where Handicap International provides assistance to victims and runs rehabilitation services, has been difficult to access for security reasons.
“Our priority is to ensure the safety of our teams, which are subject to the same risks as the rest of the population,” said Jean-François Michel, Handicap International's development projects manager in the DRC. Handicap International is also keen to maintain the possibility of supplying relief to the population when the situation allows.
The mass population movements triggered by the conflict and their consequences, which include a drop in living standards, overcrowded health facilities in certain areas, and their total absence in other sectors, risk further weakening the most vulnerable members of the community. The elderly, people with disabilities, and the injured are particularly at risk. Because they are scattered across a wide area, it will be more difficult to locate them, identify their needs, and supply them with aid.
The organization is also concerned about the risk of collateral damage resulting from the fighting, including the presence of explosive remnants of war (such as unexploded rockets) and the proliferation of small arms, both of which pose a major threat to civilians.