Boy Scouts take on Rwanda's horrors: Local children have been recruited to help in the grim task of collecting the bodies of Rwandan refugees now piling up at the rate of 2,000 a day, Robert Block reports from Goma

THERE ARE no merit badges for collecting the dead, but Goma's Boy Scouts are nonetheless serving on the front-line of one of the grimmest jobs in eastern Zaire. Every morning, nine teams of 10 scouts leave the city for the surrounding Rwandan refugee camps to collect the seemingly endless stacks of bodies that are piling up throughout the region.

The collection of dead bodies has now become the most pressing problem facing the international relief effort. 'The situation is very serious. If they stay outside for much longer, we will have bloated bodies and disease. In the short term our highest priority is dealing with these bodies,' said Ray Wilkinson, the spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner (UNHCR) in Goma.

The dead in Goma are everywhere. They line the roads. They are piled in refugee camps. They are scattered in fields. In some places the cadavers are collected in dozens of stacks, three to four bodies deep. The sheer number of the dead is overwhelming the desperate effort to get them off the streets and out of the refugee camps.

Spearheading the collection of the dead are the French troops in Goma. About 100 of them work 15 hours a day with teams of Zaireans collecting the corpses in the city. In the 24-hour period until noon yesterday, the French estimated that they had collected 2,890 bodies. But the French refuse to work outside the city limits and are reluctant to handle decomposing cadavers, because they fall apart when they are lifted onto trucks. In the past week the Irish aid agency Goal, Care International, and since four days ago, the Boys Scouts of Goma, have been drafted into the struggle.

Yesterday at Kibumba, one of the 16 refugee camps established in the Goma region, a contingent of scouts was loading cadavers onto the back of a small white truck.

'We got involved because we wanted to evacuate the dead from our cities and because we are scouts and we must help the community,' said Efraim Gorilla, the leader of the local troop.

Dressed in the traditional khaki uniform and pointed broad- brimmed hat, bearing the Fleur de Lis, the symbol of the international scout movement, he shouted orders as young men wrapped the decomposing bodies in plastic sheeting before carefully lifting them. 'Be careful how you handle that,' he called out. 'These are in bad shape.'

The Boy Scouts have teams working in eight other camps. As many as 65,000 people are expected to be afflicted with cholera before the relief agencies can get water treatment plants and sanitation equipment in place. As many as 50 per cent of the cases could result in death.

The UNHCR estimates 1,800 Rwandans are dying every day from cholera and dysentry. Other agencies believe the number is much higher. But the rate of death is not the only problem.

Goma sits in the middle of an area of active volcanoes and the underlying rock is extremely hard, meaning that finding burial places is difficult. The first sites of soft earth filled up within the first five days of the cholera epidemic last week. Efforts are now underway by aid agencies and the UN to find other sites, and to get heavy earth- moving equipment, capable of breaking the ground.

Yesterday, the United States agreed to an urgent UN request to dispatch mechanics and bulldozers to Goma to help deal with the problem. In the meantime the pressure on finding sites for mass graves is hampering efforts to bring the epidemic under control.

'Bulldozers have been taken over to bury the bodies in Kimbumba which means roads cannot be cleared for tankers to deliver water,' said Alison Campbell of Care International. 'In the Katale camp, we build huge trench latrines which are now filled with bodies. This really sets back our sanitation operation,' she added.

There is another problem. It is not always easy to determine the dead from the barely living. On Tuesday, French soldiers were filling a mass grave in Goma when one of the bodies, that of a young boy, moved. He was rescued.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests