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Disaster threatens Kibati refugees

Congolese refugees
Blankets and supplies are urgently needed by the refugees - many of them children - who have fled the fighting, say aid agencies.

Aid agencies in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo are warning there could be a "full-blown humanitarian disaster" if food and and supplies are not distributed soon to the thousand of refugees who have fled the fighting.

Aidworker Ishbel Matheson, of the UK charity Save the Children, has just returned from the Kabati refugee camp, north of the provincial capital Goma.

Drive from Goma across the rock lava-strewn road courtesy of a volcano that smokes ominously over the town and swiftly you are in the lush green Congolese countryside.

We passed the last UN base and few minutes later the car jolts across the rocky earth into Kabati camp.

A curious crowd surges round. Women in vivid Congolese wrappers, babies strapped to their backs; dusty children in tattered clothes.

What is the main problem here, I want to know.

Hunger, they respond unanimously. We are hungry.

Women and children will be huddled in the fields tonight wondering if tomorrow they will find something to eat
Ishbel Matheson

When aid agencies like Save the Children were forced to pull out of Goma because of insecurity, the lifelines to these people were cut.

We are trying to get back there as quickly as possible but in the meantime many people have not eaten for days.

How were they surviving? Woman were grubbing vegetables from the surrounding countryside, or they relying on the kindness of neighbours.

Shelter here is also a real problem. Many in Kabati have been displaced many times over - a consequence of the warfare that has engulfed eastern Congo for more than a decade.

This time, some have at least managed to grab the tarpaulins from their previous Internally Displaced People's Camp before fleeing the advance of the rebels.

These sheets have been strung across rickety frameworks of branches or pinned to the side of buildings.

Refugees
Thousands of people are trapped in Kabati by the war.

A young woman called Bauriki showed me her makeshift home. A muddy floor, a bundle of clothing - it's hardly the kind of place you would want six children to sleep in.

Fear is a another factor. Do you feel safe I asked. No - they shook their heads emphatically.

Not far away behind the low lying hills are the rebels.

If the negotiations fail and if the ceasefire does not hold, then Kabati camp is on their way into Goma.

Save the Children is launching a major appeal to help the displaced of this conflict. Children are already suffering for diarrhoea, malaria and skin diseases.

Huddled in fields

We are also trying to help families who have become split up in the chaos and to reunite children with their parents again. But their needs are huge and time is short

As the sun sinks beneath the horizon my colleagues nudge me and tell me it is time to get going.

We can get in our car and return to the relative safety of Goma but the the people in the camp don't have that choice.

Women and children will be huddled in the fields tonight wondering if tomorrow they will find something to eat.

Children in the 21st century should not be living this way.

Map of DR Congo



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