My Week: Jaya Murthy, Unicef Aid Worker

The Unicef aid worker describes the difficulties in getting food and medicine to refugees in Democratic Republic of Congo
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The Independent Online


Heavy fighting broke out yesterday between the Congolese army and the Tutsi rebels about 30km outside of Goma. Many people are dead and tens of thousands of people have been displaced and have had to flee to avoid the fighting. Some people have managed to find camps; others have sought shelter in churches and schools; others are just outside. People start arriving at our camp just outside of Goma and our first priority is to get clean water for them. I help to oversee setting up an efficient water trucking operation.


We set up a registration point for children who have been separated from their families during displacement. Often when people flee, families get separated and it makes children more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and violence. We try to identify the children and trace their family name. If we can't find the children's families they have to stay with other families in the interim. Since Sunday we've identified about 200 children and 50 children have been reunited with their families. There are about 1,600 children whose family tracing is still ongoing.


We evaluate the situation to see what other needs there are so we can plan responses. We realise we need to get emergency measles vaccinations for the children. After displacement, children are obviously far more prone to malnutrition which makes them incredibly vulnerable to contracting diseases. I help to oversee the distribution of high-energy biscuits and set up a feeding centre. We have huge warehouses of supplies here so we're well prepared. In the afternoon things change and the Congolese army retreats into Goma. Hundreds of thousands of people who were outside Goma follow them, which brings great instability and insecurity. Shootings begin all over the city. We have to suspend our emergency operations and we're close to being evacuated. Reports of killings and rapes in the city come through.


There is a ceasefire today and government negotiations take place, so it's much calmer. But our operations are still suspended. It's very frustrating to just sit around and wait. We feel very helpless.


The ceasefire is continuing to hold and we find a small window of opportunity to go to the camps outside Goma to provide emergency assistance. It's very chaotic. There are thousands of people at the distribution point when we arrive, all craving assistance. It's a desperate picture. We organise enough medical supplies to help 24,000 people over the next week and again try to maintain clean water supplies. Things are calmer but we will be following the situation closely. Thousands of children are relying on us.