Christian Aid has warned that the situation in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) province of Katanga is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis as fighting between government troops and Mai Mai and Bakata Katanga rebels has displaced more than 400,000 people, according to UN officials.
Over the past six months more than 60 villages have been burnt to the ground in the northern Katanga territories of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto, dubbed the ‘triangle of death’. The violence has intensified since January 2014 and Christian Aid partners have recorded a 50 per cent increase in internally displaced people (IDPs) in Pweto territory alone in the last three months, from 59,000 to almost 128,000.
As IDP numbers continue to rise at an alarming rate malnutrition is rife, security is almost non-existent and living conditions are deteriorating daily. Christian Aid partners the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Congo (EELCO) and the Consortium of Economist of the Civil Society in Katanga (CEC) are providing 1,000 families with temporary shelter, clothing, blankets, cooking utensils, soap and hygiene kits.
"The situation in Katanga is desperate - we are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis unless drastic emergency measures are taken now," warns Salome Ntububa, Regional Emergency manager for Central Africa at Christian Aid.
"Fleeing with only the clothes on their backs, most families lack cash to purchase even basic shelter, bedding, firewood or medication, while children under 14, who make up over a third of the displaced population, are eating only one small meal per day at best.
"Malaria, diarrhoea and cholera pose huge health threats and contaminated well water means people are being forced to drink from polluted rivers.
"As the vital crop-planting season fast approaches there is a real fear that young women and girls will be forced to turn to prostitution in order to feed their families and to survive, raising serious concerns about HIV infection rates.
"Only ten per cent of parents in the region can now afford to send their children to school and many people are having to sell their bicycles, and even shoes, in order to buy food, while some are being forced to resort to begging," Ms Ntububa continues.
The escalating number of violent clashes between rebel groups in recent weeks remains a huge concern regarding the delivery of emergency aid, with too few government forces (FARDC) on the ground to deter the insurgents.
"There is no police station, or even a military post, in any of the villages we visited. The closest is located over 100 kilometres away. In Pweto territory it has been reported to us that there are only nine government soldiers on hand to protect more than 6,000 unarmed civilians," adds Ms Ntububa.