Since December there has been a resurgence of violence in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
By mid-March, more than 180 people had been killed and over 100 villages burned to the ground. Over 40,000 people have crossed Lake Albert into Uganda to escape the violence. A further 343,000 people are internally displaced within the Ituri district.
More than 12,000 children are affected by the crisis, which has forced about 200 schools to close. Many health facilities have been destroyed or are not functioning. The security situation remains precarious.
Working with Trócaire in DRC for the past year, I look after the gender programme focusing on women and girls.
DRC has one of the worst records for gender equality. Women are more likely to be politically, economically and socially marginalised in the DRC. The literacy rate for women is only 57 per cent, compared with 77 per cent for men. Sexual violence remains a daily reality for women and girls.
Trócaire provides literacy and rights training to increase women's participation in society. We aim to prevent violence against women by working with communities to change harmful gender norms. We also provide survivors of sexual violence with medical, psychological, social, legal and economic care.
Last year, Trócaire supported almost 70,000 people in DRC. Despite the continued difficulties and unstable environment, my colleagues and I continue to work to improve the lives of the people.
The impact of the various conflicts since the 1990s has had a dramatic effect on a population already affected by poverty before the crisis. Despite a decrease in the poverty rate, DRC is still ranked as the eleventh poorest country in the world.
After fleeing their homes, families arrive into camps without even the bare essentials. They are in urgent need of the basics – food, water, sanitation, shelter, healthcare.
Ireland today pledged a further €5m in humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis through Irish Aid. The announcement was made at the UN Pledging Conference held in Geneva.
The recent escalation in violence means that there is now even greater need for support for the people of DRC.
Deirdre Lomasney is Trócaire’s Gender & Programme Quality Officer in DRC.