The United Nations humanitarian wing is urging greater protection for civilians in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has witnessed a surge in sexual violence since the beginning of this year.
Some 463 women were raped in the first quarter of 2009, more than half of the total number of violations registered for the whole of last year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
OCHA reported that most of the sexual violence is committed by soldiers and members of the various armed militia, and that since the Government launched its military operation against the mainly ethnic Hutu rebel group FDLR in April, civilians have been increasingly victims of looting, extortions, arson, killings and rape in eastern DRC.
UN relief officials have met with Congolese authorities to convey the concerns of the humanitarian community regarding the protection of civilians and aid access.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has distributed post-exposure prophylactic (PEP) kits throughout South Kivu, which can reduce the risk of HIV infection if administered within 72 hours of the rape.
Since March, an estimated 120,000 people have been forced from their homes in South Kivu as a result of violent attacks by FDLR militias and clashes pitting the national army against the Hutu group, which has been operating in eastern DRC since the end of the Rwandan genocide wiped out around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed some 2,459 tons of food to 323,472 people in South Kivu during the past two months. The agency with its partner, CARITAS, is handing out food for a further 20,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the Kalehe-Nyabibwe axis.
OCHA’s DRC Humanitarian Action Plan, which has requested $831 million for humanitarian programmes in the country in 2009, has so far received $271 million or 33 per cent of the total.