Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)

Ned Meerdink (Sos Femmes en Danger – SOSFED): Ned earned his Bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied humanitarian work in Central and Eastern Africa. After graduation, NED worked for human rights NGOs in the US and Congo. They included Mutuelle Jeunesse Active (MJA) in Sud Kivu. AP deployed Ned to Uvira, in South Kivu, in September 2008 to work with civil society organizations including Tunza Mazingira, Arche d’Alliance, and SOS Femmes en Danger. Ned launched the partnership between SOSFED and AP in 2009.

Arche d’Alliance Field Visit: Lubarika and the Haut Plateau

24 Jul

Yesterday, I was traveling to Lubarika, a small village on Uvira’s Haut Plateau. The Haut Plateau is a mountainous region of South Kivu which begins just east of Bukavu (somewhere near Shabunda) and flows south into Fizi Territory. The villages of the Haut Plateau surrounding Uvira have recently been the site of large movements of IDPs Iinternally displaced persons) fleeing the advance of FDLR troops in their area. Arche d’Alliance was working in Lubarika in order to get a sense of the amount of IDPs moving in the area in light of FDLR attacks over the last week, as well as to attempt to establish a more unified procedure for registering the IDPs moving into Lubarika. Lots if interesting aspects to the IDP crisis around Uvira were made abundantly clear during the visit.

First, the FDLR is quite active in the area. The morning of our arrival, the FDLR rebels had attacked villages just 3 or 4 km from Lubarika. They burned and pillaged houses and sent a large exodus of IDPs fleeing for Lubarika, where Kimya II forces are providing some sense of security. More details of these attacks will probably come to the surface over the next few days, but as we were in the area the morning of, we were given extremely limited amounts of information.

Secondly, we learned that in Lubarika the Kimya II troops, while not trusted by everyone, are making efforts to keep calm in the region. Interviews with newly arrived IDPs revealed that the current FARDC Kimya II soldiers in the area are overwhelmed but have not recently been involved in any extensive pillaging or sexual violence (this is as well just partial information, as not much time has passed to reveal any possible violations by the Kimya II force). We saw their patrols on the road, and they looked, frankly, worn out and ill-prepared to do much more than patrol. The fact that the FDLR was pillaging and burning villages at 3 km seems to corroborate this observation.

In addition, we saw first-hand the importance of an analysis of ‘carrying capacity’ of a community when considering IDP movements. One of the problems beginning to show in Lubarika is that IDPs will arrive from as far as Mwenga (100 km west) with almost nothing at all. They will then look to the Lubarika community to offer what they can in terms of food and shelter. Many have no family in the area and have fled village after village as FDLR attacks have continue to push them further east on the Haut Plateau. The Lubarika population extends the natural amount of Congolese hospitality, but as we were told, it gets to be a major problem. One man interviewed told us that just that following the FDLR attacks of that morning, 12 IDPs arrived at his residence in need of some shelter and food. The impoverished community of Lubarika is working to cater to these arriving IDPs, but there is a clear conflict in the making when people with nothing arrive to ask for help from communities with very little to offer. Each quartier we saw had families of IDPs, some only arriving half-intact, who are now reaching out to their neighbors for everything they need to live.

Further considering the difficulties of supporting the new IDPs, it seems as if NGOs and the international community have a necessary role to play. Taking the burden off families now sharing the very little they have with IDPs and offering more consistent support to the arriving IDPs is a clear way to maintain some semblance of calm in Lubarika. The reality, however, is the there are no efforts of the sort occurring in the region. Each interviewee we spoke with mentioned that there were no other NGOs in the area attempting to aid Lubarika to cope with the IDPs in the area. Simple steps like counting the number of new arrivals, asking where they are coming from, and registering them to be eligible for eventual aid are being performed not by NGOs with sufficient funding but by small field clinics. These clinics, in addition to responding to the ever-increasing problems with malaria and diarrhea among new arrivals in Lubarika, are also charged with writing the names of new arrivals and trying to keep them organized. Not only is this not part of their job description, but they are not paid for this work and understaffed to make serious efforts to properly carry the work out. This is one of the aspects that Arche d’Alliance is attempting to step in on, making them unfortunately the first NGO to be helping Lubarika to care for the overwhelming number of IDPs coming into their community each day.

Finally, we spoke with residents of their plans in light of the continuing attacks near their homes. Most in Lubarika said that if the security situation continues to deteriorate they will be forced to flee themselves towards Uvira (first towards Sange and Kiliba villages immediately below the Haut Plateau). Considering this possibility, it is easy to understand the way in which a refugee/IDP crisis multiplies. Those formally receiving and aiding IDPs become IDPs themselves due to spreading insecurity, and pass the difficulties of supporting a fleeing community onto another village which might be about to flee as well. It is a disastrous cycle, and very troubling to see played out so close to home.

Though the chance of reversing this trend is extremely small, Arche d’Alliance hopes to continue to be able to work with these communities to, at the minimum, be able to accurately register those fleeing in order to await aid which could come in the near future for IDPs living on the Haut Plateau. Communities like Lubarika are doing their best to support their fleeing neighbors while waiting to see if they will have to flee as well, but they are completely overwhelmed. Hopefully, interventions by those with the means to take some of the burden off these communities and combine resources with Congolese (who are already giving everything they have to work with arriving IDPs) will provide some eventual relief within the ongoing problems in South Kivu.

Ned Meerdink

Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)

Posted Jul 24th, 2009


  • Ned

    September 4, 2009


    Recently, it would seem that the formation of camps is necessary, as the numbers of IDP continues to grow daily. Attacks have occurred along the main road between Uvira and Bukavu in the villages of Runingu and Sange, and people are really at a loss on how to support all of the IDPs converging on town.

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