At least 37,000 people have fled their homes in four days in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to escape fighting between the army and M23 rebels, NGOs said Friday.
Clashes have recently resumed in Rutshuru territory, the usual scene of fighting with the M23, and have spread this week to the neighbouring territory of Nyiragongo, closer to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
Wave of violence
"Thousands of families have been forced to flee this new wave of violence. Some had to walk more than 20 km to reach the outskirts of Goma," said Caitlin Brady, NRC's director in DRC.
"UNHCR is deeply concerned about the urgent and significant needs of more than 72,000 people displaced" by the fighting since 19 May, the UN agency said in a statement.
Since last November, at least 170,000 civilians have been driven from their homes by fighting in eastern DRC, the UNHCR said, adding that "at least 1.9 million people are displaced in North Kivu", a province bordering Rwanda and Uganda. In total, the DRC has 5.6 million displaced people, a record in Africa.
Cholera and malaria
In the past week, some 7,000 Congolese have taken refuge in Uganda, where some 25,000 others had already arrived during earlier fighting in late March, UNHCR said.
The thousands of recently displaced people have been huddled in churches, schools and other sites that are not suitable for such an influx, leaving them vulnerable to cholera, malaria and other diseases, aid agencies say.
They lack food, clean water and basic equipment, added UNHCR, which says it urgently needs $5 million for its operations in North Kivu.
Adama Coulibaly, for the IRC, stressed the need to ensure the protection of humanitarian teams working on the ground. The fighting subsided on Thursday and, according to sources interviewed from Goma, the situation was calm on Friday morning. But it "remains uncertain", he said.
The DRC is again accusing Rwanda of supporting these rebels, which Kigali again denied on Thursday.