Tensions in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), remain high since the city was taken by the M23 rebel group in late November 2012.
Although M23 has since withdrawn from the city, the group remains nearby and negotiations between the rebels and the Congolese government are at standstill.
With government forces largely withdrawn from Goma and the surrounding area, multiple armed militias have taken positions in the region, threatening the civilian population and making it more difficult for people to access food, healthcare, and other vital services.
According to the United Nations, more than 900,000 people in North Kivu province have been internally displaced since the M23 movement began in April 2012. The UNHCR estimates that some 60,000 people have fled to neighboring countries.
While Handicap International, which first started working in North Kivu in 1995, temporarily suspended its activities following the rebel takeover of Goma, the organization is now distributing aid. Before the current emergency, the organization was largely focused on providing rehabilitation and other services to people disabled by explosive remnants of war and gunshots. Eastern DRC has been ravaged by war and marauding armed groups for nearly two decades.
“We are doing all that we can to pursue our activities and monitor the conditions that the local people face,” says Hélène Robin, manager of Handicap International's emergency operations in the DRC. “We are particularly apprehensive about the coming weeks. The prevailing instability could lead to a new humanitarian disaster and civilians might again be caught between opposing armed groups.”
Currently the organization is facilitating the distribution of humanitarian aid such as food and emergency supplies, particularly to areas not well served by large international aid groups. Should security allow it, Handicap International's emergency teams will establish an assistance program for people with disabilities and other vulnerable individuals in Goma. As many people have been displaced from their homes and those with disabilities and mobility challenges may not be able to reach aid distributions centers on their own, mobile teams will travel throughout the region to identify the people most in need of help. Depending on their circumstances, Handicap International will provide them with direct assistance or link them to appropriate support services.