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Displaced in Bunia Face Aid Shortage

Bunia, DR Congo, July 4, 2003 - The international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today that there are not enough essential supplies to help the displaced people coming to the northeast town of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since last Saturday, thousands of people have been returning to the town where an intervention force led by the European Union has been deployed since June 6.

The organization says that the current levels of assistance to the displaced in town - especially food aid - are already insufficient. With nearly 1,300 more people arriving every day, MSF fears there will be a significant lack of medical facilities, food distributions, shelter materials and sanitation facilities for the people flocking to open camps in the town.

Although many of the people coming to Bunia are returnees who fled fighting in the town in mid-May, only a few families return directly to their homes as many of the houses in Bunia have been destroyed and looted. Insecurity, especially at night, still reigns in many parts of the town, which causes most people to choose to stay in a camp that already houses approximately 15,000 people living in dire conditions. The returnees have to cater for their own shelter and food - apart from a single food distribution two weeks ago - and they have not been provided with hygienic sanitation facilities.

Since May 15, the 70-bed MSF-run hospital in the center of town has been the only health structure in the area with surgical facilities. MSF surgeon Birgit Neudecker performs at least ten operations a day. "Fighters are brought in with fresh war wounds. But civilians have war wounds that are often more than three weeks old," she said. "It is very difficult to help them. These people must have suffered a lot." MSF doctors and nurses treat sick and wounded from all ethnic groups, and perform an average of 1,200 consultations each week.

MSF set up a new health post at Bunia's entry point to deliver first aid and perform medical screenings for people entering the town. According to MSF staff, the returnees are exhausted, many are ill and many children are malnourished because of the harsh conditions they have endured in order to survive.

Many villagers also continue to flee fighting in the surrounding countryside. Outside of Bunia, people in the volatile Ituri region still have no access to humanitarian aid and it is impossible for humanitarian organizations to assess the situation or extend the reach of their assistance beyond Bunia.

"Bunia is becoming like a partly surrounded refuge where people from the surrounding areas seek safety," said Nicolas Louis, Head of Mission for MSF in Bunia. People who are trapped outside of Bunia, many of whom have been displaced several times over the past years, have no access to assistance or healthcare.

The MSF team in Bunia consists of 10 international volunteers and 104 local staff, including 42 medical professionals. For the last six weeks, teams have been working day and night in the hospital.