Kibati and beyond: Seeking options for displaced people in the Congo

Posted by Tariq Riebl

6th Sep 2012

A surge in violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent months has led to massive displacement. More than half a million people have been displaced this year. Many of the newly displaced people have fled to Kibati camp on the edges of Goma town. Here are some the challenges these people face, and their options.

Over the past few weeks we've seen an increase in the number of people in Kibati's site for internally displaced people (on the edges of Goma in eastern DRC) - from around 34,500 people to more than 55,000. Every day new shelters made of little more than twigs and white tarpaulin pop up.

We've been building latrines in Kibati, but because there is no source of water there or nearby, Oxfam has been trucking water in. Water trucking is slow and expensive, using up valuable resources fast, and is not a sustainable solution for a population of this size, especially one that is growing. Last week we nearly doubled our delivery from 180m3 a day to 300m3. This means that the internall displaced people are receiving between five and six litres per person per day - a great improvement but still the bare minimum.

We all need to scale up humanitarian activity in Kibati. While responding to immediate needs, we also need to think about how best to support these people in the longer term, because it doesn't look like they will be able to go home any time soon. Kibati camp's residents set up here after they fled fighting north of Kibati between the Congolese army and the M23 rebel group, formed after an army rebellion in April. Kibati lies only 10km away from the frontline of the conflict that brought these tens of thousands of people here. Should M23 move towards Goma, Kibati and its vulnerable residents would lie between their current position and the town.

There are two things we could do. One is to ensure that Kibati camp is formally managed, which would improve co-ordination and help to ensure people receive more aid. Another is to find another location for those people who want to move to a more secure area. Bulengo, 1km from Lake Kivu and on the other side of Goma town, could fit the bill. We would be able to provide water more sustainably and cost-effectively here, because it's close to the lake. The sooner we start the better - the land must be cleared and we need to ensure proper provision of services before we can ask people to move.

Hélène, her husband Gaspard, and their five children are seven newcomers to Kibati. They do not have a lot with them here, just a mat rolled up into a bundle with a bright yellow jerry can, clothes and some pots in it. Their plan is to erect a small shelter here like the thousands that surround them and then, like everyone else here, wait out the conflict.

While there has been a lull in fighting between the M23 and the Congolese army for the last few weeks, the conflict has continued to push people like this family to flee because of ongoing skirmishes, fear that their homes might soon become engulfed in fighting, and increasing food scarcity. Many are afraid of forced recruitment, a common occurrence in this part of the country. This must end; both parties to the conflict must instead ensure that civilians are protected and that they abide by international humanitarian law.

Gaspard's story is typical. "Every morning the soldiers were forcing me to be a porter from 8am to midday, carrying food from our fields to their place. We also have to give them a portion of our crops, so we have less food," Gaspard said. "That's why we left."

Now in an increasingly crowded corner of Kibati camp, Hélène, Gaspard and their family may be in a less volatile environment than before, but they and Kibati's residents both deserve more assistance now in their current location and the option to make an informed choice to move to a potentially safer location in the future.

Blog post written by Tariq Riebl

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