- The United Nations refugee agency has reported it is assisting over 100,000 civilians who have fled eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent months due to the ongoing military offensive against Hutu militants and banditry by armed groups.
Since last December, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered 15,508 new internally displaced persons who fled the troubled eastern province of North Kivu.
UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters that this latest wave of displacement brings to 116,000 the population of camps in and around Kitchanga. The agency is currently managing 47 camps in the region, providing protection and assistance.
Fierce fighting has persisted in eastern DRC, particularly in North and South Kivu, where Hutu militants blamed for the Rwandan genocide of 1994 have fled. Last year the Congolese Government launched several offensives targeting the group known as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), with logistical support from the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUC).
UNHCR noted that other militias and armed groups have taken advantage of the situation, attacking civilians, looting property, committing rape and burning homes.
“We estimate that so far we have registered only a part of the recently displaced population and that many more could be sheltering with host families or hiding in the woods fearing to return to their homes,” said Mr Mahecic. “These IDPs cannot be accessed due to insecurity and impassable roads.”
UNHCR estimates that there are some 2.1 million people displaced in eastern DRC where it says harassment, human rights abuses, rapes and intimidations against civilians are regularly reported by the local population.
Meanwhile, the UN and its aid partners have voiced concern about the dire humanitarian needs in Sud-Ubangi district in the country’s north-west Equateur province as a result of recent armed violence.
While the efforts of the national army and MONUC have helped to restore calm, there are at least 60,000 IDPs in the province, where clashes that erupted last year over fishing and farming rights between different ethnic groups in one area later turned into widespread violence.
“After weeks of insecurity, the area is now sufficiently safe for humanitarian operations and we are stepping up our response efforts,” said Abdou Dieng, acting Humanitarian Coordinator in DRC.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has already distributed 48 metric tons of food aid for one month to almost 5,740 people in Boyazala and Bozene, while food rations for a further 30-day period are expected to reach an additional 22,400 IDPs in Bokonzi as soon as the security situation permits.
Also, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is planning a number of measures, including a measles vaccination campaign for all children under five, the provision of food and safe drinking water, and the rehabilitation of schools and the distribution of educational materials.
The violence in Equateur province also resulted in 109,000 people fleeing to neighbouring Republic of Congo, and 18,000 to the Central African Republic (CAR).
Senior UN health official refutes accusations of inflating risk of H1N1
The top United Nations flu official has rejected allegations that the World Health Organisation (WHO) exaggerated the severity of the H1N1 influenza pandemic under pressure from business interests.
“Let me state clearly for the record. The influenza pandemic policies and responses recommended and taken by WHO were not improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry,” WHO Special Adviser on Pandemic Influenza Keiji Fukuda told a hearing at the Council of Europe yesterday.
Dr Fukuda told the 2009 H1N1 pandemic inquiry that WHO takes its role of providing independent advice to its 193 Member States very seriously, and has in place measures to protect itself from improper influences.
After the agency received reports of the new human strain of the virus in April last year, laboratory testing confirmed that existing antibodies to the current human H1N1 viruses did not react to the new form, underscoring its potential to cause a pandemic.
“The most important information was when investigations indicated that this new virus was causing community outbreaks with person to person spread,” Dr Fukuda told the Strasbourg-based Council.
“In Mexico, early outbreaks included deaths and severe respiratory illnesses requiring ventilators among previously healthy young people,” he added. “WHO took decisive actions in accordance with the International Health Regulations but did not announce the start of a pandemic until 11 June 2009 when the updated pandemic criteria were met.”
Stressing that the new virus spread with unprecedented speed, reaching 120 countries and territories in around eight weeks, Dr Fukuda stated that cases have now been reported in virtually all countries.
“Numerous safeguards are in place to manage conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest among members of WHO advisory groups and expert committees,” he told the Council of Europe, which is tasked with protecting human rights, among other responsibilities.
With more than 14,000 laboratory-confirmed deaths reported to date, Dr Fukuda warned that the pandemic is not over, adding that it would be misleading to compare this number with figures from seasonal influenza.
“This is like comparing apples with oranges,” he said. Deaths from seasonal flu are based on statistical models whereas the deaths from the pandemic were confirmed one-by-one through laboratory tests and are much lower than the true number of total fatalities.
“The labelling of the pandemic as ‘fake’ is to ignore recent history and science and to trivialize the deaths of over 14,000 people and the many additional serious illnesses experienced by others,” he concluded.
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