KINSHASA, 3 May 2006 (IRIN) - With ongoing fighting between the government and Mayi-Mayi militia groups in the north and centre of Katanga Province the number of displaced has reached at least 165,000 in the last six months, UN officials said.
"One hundred and sixty five thousand is the figure we are using but it could be as high as 200,000," a UN aid official asking not to be named told IRIN on Wednesday. "Every week we get reports of 200 to 1,000 new displaced that are directly linked to the conflict."
Various aid organisations are now stepping up their activities in the area, he said. The NGO Action Against Hunger is opening nutrition centres. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has started air-dropping food aid in Mitwaba. Caritas has been providing food, clothing and blankets. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is providing health services and other NGOs are about to provide non-food items with support from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Fighting is taking place in two vast areas, the UN official said; one in the east of central Katanga as far as the town of Petwo near the Zambian border; the other on the western side around Lake Upemba. In the town of Mitwaba, which is between the two conflict zones, at least 20,000 displaced people have arrived in the last six months, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"Children sometimes arrive nude and women have barely anything to cover their genitals," Karl Nawej, an assistant head of mission for MSF, said.
North of Mitwaba other displaced people "continue to come out of the bush as there is violence there again," he added; and 20 km south of Mitwaba at Sampwe, he said, MSF had discovered almost 12,000 more displaced who had not received aid for months.
UNHCR External Relations Officer Jens Hesemann, who recently returned from Mitwaba, told IRIN: "Everyday 50 to 100 more people come out of the bush. Many are almost naked and in urgent need of assistance with skin diseases and very poor nutrition."
UNHCR began setting up a registration project on 25 April in collaboration MSF to provide people with numbered registration cards that would systemise aid distribution by all relief organisations.
"For the first time in DRC, UNHCR applies the key protection tool of individual registration," according to a UNHCR statement. "The registration will help provide timely and adequate assistance, by identifying the scale of the needs and population changes - hinting to renewed crisis in case of growth or resolution of the source of displacement in case of decline."
UNHCR said the registration process in Mitwaba would be completed by mid-May and then start in Katanga's other IDP camps.