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A view from Goma: Responding to the chaos of upheaval

Camp for displaced people around Goma. Photo: Colin Delfosse/Oxfam
Camp for displaced people around Goma

Tens of thousands of people have fled the fighting of the past two weeks and are now sheltering in desperate conditions in and around Goma. Many of them have had to move two, three or even more times in the past few months as the fighting has spread. For many the constant displacement is taking its toll: people have lost their homes, their possessions, some have even lost children in the unrelenting chaos of upheaval. When one woman we spoke to fled her home in Sake with her nine children, she tied them together so they didn’t get split up on the long walk.

The woman and her children fled to Lac Vert camp. All week Oxfam engineers and public health teams have been scaling up our response there, and in other vast camps set up on the edge of Goma.

These camps are very overcrowded. Precise numbers are hard to confirm because people are moving so often and the security situation changes constantly – but we estimate that in some camps the populations have almost doubled. The threat of cholera outbreaks is enormous, so Oxfam is providing people with clean water and better sanitation. In Goma itself, power has been very intermittent – which means that the city’s water pump cannot work – leaving people with very little clean water.

In some camps – like Lac Vert, which now shelters around 20,000 people – we have to bring water in by trucks because the pipeline system is not yet operational. This is far from ideal, so our teams are working hard to connect a pipeline between here and another camp called Mugunga 1, so that water trucking will no longer be necessary.

Lac Vert camp has seen a big influx of people – almost doubling in size. It is particularly crowded and disorganised. Here, as well as providing clean water, our public heath teams are carrying out campaigns to let people living in the camp know how to prevent cholera and other diseases. We are constructing 100 latrines, 90 showers, and delivering 60,000 litres of safe water everyday.

Putting up shelters at the new site at Bulengo. Photo: Christina Corbett/Oxfam
Putting up shelters at the new site at Bulengo

There are too many people for these camps to handle, so a new site at Bulengo has been identified, where we’ve been setting up the water system and constructing latrines. Around 10,000 people have moved here in the past couple of days, which will hopefully ease the overcrowding in the other camps.

Many people fled into Goma city itself and are staying in schools and churches. At the Don Bosco centre more than 6,000 people have taken refuge in very basic conditions, and Oxfam is building latrines to improve sanitation there.

As well as water and sanitation, there are huge needs for food and shelter. When people flee they often don’t have time to take anything with them, and when they arrive they have nowhere to shelter at night. Some people have had their shelters looted during the upheaval.

Security is still a major problem – nobody is sure what will happen in the coming days. It makes it very difficult for aid agencies to respond, but we are trying our best to get life-saving aid to people who have suffered unimaginably in the past few weeks and months.

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Written by Clovis Mwambutsa

Clovis Mwambutsa

Clovis is Oxfam's Programme Coordinator in North Kivu in DR Congo

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