MSF fears that increased insecurity will remain the main obstacle for delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance to displaced populations of Ituri - DRC

Geneva, 25 February 2005 - Ongoing insecurity on roads and around main concentrations of displaced populations remain the main obstacle to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Ituri district in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On February 24, 2005, almost two weeks after it started delivering aid to affected people in the region, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has had to temporarily suspend its activities in Iga-Barrière and Tché due to intense movements of armed groups in the conflict-affected area.

Since the beginning of the year and following the resumption of hostilities between warring factions, tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in Ituri. Many villages have been affected in the Djugu area. Recent clashes have displaced at least an estimated 20,000 people in Ituri. These local people, already impoverished by the conflict ravaging the area since 1999, have had to flee into the surrounding forests and abandon their few possessions to local looters.

Despite recent efforts and initiatives to stabilize the region, acts of extreme violence have been perpetrated against fleeing civilians. Numerous atrocities, including physical violence, rapes, and murders have been reported. Women and children in particular have had to suffer from the brutality perpetrated by the warring parties. Ethnic tensions have risen again and a state of fear is once again reigning in the region.

New displacement of populations is happening at a time when communities are busy cultivating their land. Unless security is restored rapidly, the food situation could continue to deteriorate and cause severe malnutrition among the most vulnerable. Already in some of the affected areas, one in four children are showing signs of moderate or severe malnutrition. However, at the moment, a majority of the displaced people who have been regrouped in the largest of the temporary camps have benefited from food and non-food items distributions. There is no indication at this point that these families would want to return to their villages as long as insecurity is ongoing.

MSF has started an emergency vaccination campaign to prevent a measles epidemic among children under the age of 15 in Tché and Kakwa and in the village of Gina. A minimum of 10,000 children will benefit from that vaccination campaign. General medical assistance is also being provided by MSF in Tché and Kakwa where a high number of cases of gender-based violence among girls and women on the one hand, and malnutrition among children on the other, are being reported. All medical referrals for surgical and obstetric interventions are sent to the MSF hospital in the city of Bunia, the capital of Ituri district. MSF is also providing clean water and complete sanitation including the building of latrines to the populations who have gathered in the Kakwa camp situated on the shores of Lake Albert.

Since June 2003, MSF has been working in the Ituri district located in the North Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They provide assistance to people who have had to flee the areas affected by conflicts between warring factions. Today, 20 international MSF aid workers (of which 9 are involved in this emergency) and more than 300 national staff provide assistance to people at Bunia Hospital and through mobile clinic activities in the district.