Humanitarian agencies and their partners are working "around the clock" to provide basic services such as water, food and shelter to more than 140,000 people displaced by the recent violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations said Tuesday.
On Friday, the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) were able to restart their activities, which were interrupted last week due to the recent upsurge in fighting between government troops and the M23 rebel group.
"Over the weekend, UNHCR and our partners were able to resume assistance to internally displaced people (IDPs) in 12 sites around Goma, including Mugunga 3 - with handouts of WFP food, as well as soap and water containers," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
"The aid deliveries began on Saturday, and the aim is to reach 110,000 people. This is the first large-scale aid delivery since Goma was captured by the M23 rebel movement on Nov 20," he said.
M23 fighters - a rebel group composed of soldiers who mutinied from the DRC national army in April - occupied Goma, the capital of North Kivu, last Tuesday after launching a new wave of attacks.
The advance of the M23 has uprooted more than 140,000 civilians, Edwards said. Many have settled in the city of Goma in spontaneous sites and the Mugunga 3 camp and are living in precarious conditions.
"Many IDPs need shelter and clean water. Sanitary conditions remain a major challenge due to the lack of toilets and water supply points. Some cases of vomiting, diarrhoea and respiratory infections have already been recorded. These respiratory infections are due to the fact that these people have no shelter and are sleeping in the open under the rains."
Edwards also noted that many IDPs have started to return home, adding that UNHCR will conduct exploratory visits in the coming days to ensure safe conditions in the return areas. The agency will also assist with transportation, particularly for those who are in poor health, and pregnant women.
"Many of the displaced are telling us they intend returning soon to their home areas, and for this reason the initial aid deliveries are three-day rations only. Further assistance is being planned for areas of return," he said.
According to the spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Jens Laerke, other humanitarian organizations have also started a rapid assessment of Goma following a relative improvement of the security situation to ensure a safe return for IDPs. However, there are concerns about unexploded ordinance (UXO) that could harms civilians on their way to their villages.
WFP also warned that most IDPs will still require food assistance once they return to their homes, as many left their fields unattended.
"Food assistance is crucial as the displaced people have absolutely no means to access food. Their situation is even harder as food prices are increasing dramatically on the local market," said WFP Country Director Martin Ohlsen
Since it recommenced its activities, the agency has provided emergency food assistance to more than 81,000 people in a dozen sites in and around Goma. While activities have resumed, the volatile security situation is still limiting efforts by humanitarian agencies to rapidly assess and respond to the crisis, WFP said.
It added that it would maintain its programmes in North and South Kivu, as well as in Bunia in Orientale province, where angry protestors recently plundered WFP offices and looted stocks form the warehouse and the agency's trucks.