Unrest in the DRC

December 10, 2012 • Democratic Republic of the Congo

Samaritan’s Purse is meeting immediate needs of people displaced by fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Escalating violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo is creating a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of people are being forced from their homes.

In Goma, more than 140,000 people have been displaced in the past few weeks. That number doesn’t include those who have fled to Uganda and other surrounding countries. As the unrest grows, more people are fleeing to safety.

“It’s a huge humanitarian crisis,” said Aaron Wolcott, Samaritan’s Purse country director. “One of our partners told us today that there’s one camp in Goma where they’ve received no materials yet, and it’s the rainy season. So people are living in open air in very difficult situations.”

Samaritan’s Purse is responding to the needs of displaced people by working through partners in Goma and other areas to provide supplies. We are learning daily of new needs.

“We’re trying to get assistance to the displaced people as quickly as possible in the form of tarps, blankets, pots and pans and stuff like that, and then also WASH, if we can,” Wolcott said.

WASH, which stands for water, sanitation, and hygiene, is an immediate need in camps full of hungry and thirsty displaced people. It is crucial to provide clean water and introduce good hygiene practices to avoid illness and disease among such a large group of people living in close quarters. Basic healthcare is also an important necessity in the situation.

“The other major immediate need is for people who have been sexually assaulted,” Wolcott said. “The Congolese military and the rebels use rape as a weapon of war to demoralize people. One of our partners today told us that they’ve set up some clinics in the camps already to try to treat people who have been sexually assaulted.”

A group called M23 has caused most of the recent unrest, but factions of rebels across the region are creating problems for civilians. As M23 captured Goma almost three weeks ago, other groups started riots in Bunia and other areas. Samaritan’s Purse expatriate staff members, who are based in Bunia, were evacuated. The rebel group has since withdrawn and Samaritan’s Purse staff returned to continue meeting needs.

One of the biggest concerns is that the rebels groups will unite together, causing riots that would inevitably lead to more instability and insecurity. Many people feel neglected by the government. M23 claims to want to implement a failed peace agreement from 2009. These disappointments provide ample opportunities for people to start rebellions.

Civilians caught in the crossfire

The harsh reality is that civilians are caught in the middle of a fight that should be between the rebel groups and the government. As the groups refuse to compromise, the situation is growing worse for people who are simply trying to live. One of our partners reported that a choral group practicing at a local church had a grenade thrown at them, and four people were injured.

Although Bunia is north of the majority of the fighting, the city is not immune to the unrest. On the day that Goma was captured by the rebels, people in Bunia started rioting. One man who occasionally works at the Samaritan’s Purse base to do vehicle maintenance got caught in the crowd on his way home and was shot in the leg. He has been in the hospital since then, but the doctors are optimistic that he will be able to walk again.

The rioters also decided to pay a visit to Samaritan’s Purse. They had looted many homes in Bunia, and their next stop was our office. But when they arrived, many people in the group were against going inside.

“Our guards who were on duty at the time told us that when they got to our office, people in the group said, ‘No, we can’t attack Samaritan’s Purse because they helped us in the past, so we should leave them alone,’” Wolcott said. “I think it’s just a huge testimony to God’s goodness toward us but also a testimony that people do know about the work that we do and they appreciate the work that we do.”

As Wolcott and his team make plans on how they can have a bigger presence in the camps, they ask that we remember them in prayer.

“It’s a very complex situation, and it changes daily,” Wolcott said. “That makes it very hard. You don’t want to get caught in the middle of things, so we’re trying to help people but at the same time do it in a safe way. It’s very difficult to know sometimes exactly how to do that. I think the first thing would just be to pray for the needs but also the wisdom to know how to respond to the crisis.”

Wolcott also asked for prayer for the national staff. As men and women who have grown up in the DR Congo, many of them have been traumatized by the recent violence. They need strength to move forward.

Please also remember to pray for all Samaritan’s Purse projects in the DRC. Many of them are in regions that have not yet been affected by violence, and we pray that they will be able to continue serving the Congolese people without interruption by the spread of violence.