Conjure up the images in your mind. Draw upon your memories of the Ethiopian famine. Starving children. Mothers holding dead newborns. The pictures are ugly. But uglier still is what some relief officials call "the holocaust that is in the making" if the world does not respond quickly to Zaire.
Until a cease fire on Nov. 5, a civil war made it impossible for relief agencies to deliver food, water and medicine to more than 1.5 million refugees, many from neighboring Rwanda and Burundi.
"This is an emergency that's got to be met with absolute top priority," said Lionel Rosenblaatt, president of Refugees International. Other relief officials are just shaking their heads. They've run out of adjectives to define the horror.
Church World Service sent out an appeal Thursday night (11/7) for $500,000 to help fund "massive relief programs" for new refugee camps including a resumption of its medical operation.
A spokesman for Church World Service, the relief agency of the National Council of Churches, said it is prepared to resume support of a medical program for refugees in Zaire and said half of its total appeal would be used for that purpose. The balance will be used to support Action by Churches Together which has issued appeals totaling $6,638,497 for work to be coordinated by Lutheran World Federation, Norwegian Church Aid, Christian Aid, and Tanzania Christian Relief Service.
Action by Churches Together is an international emergency relief consortium of churches and church-related agencies coordinated by the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation.
The World Council of Churches has called "the current situation complex to an extraordinary degree."
In Virginia, Sef Ashiagbor of Key Associates, works as a program assistant helping to coordinate efforts of groups like the United Methodist Committee on Relief with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. She knows all the intricate dynamics that have led to this crisis. But translating them for public consumption seems simply overwhelming.
Ashiagbor suggests the current situation has its roots in Rwanda during 1994, when Hutu extremists murdered thousands of Tutsi and then, fearing revenge, fled in large numbers to refugee camps in Zaire.
In September, a group of Tutsi, called the Banyamulenge, who have lived in Zaire for more than 200 years were ordered by the government to leave in less than a week. On Oct. 17, the Banyamulenge decided to fight rather than leave and confronted the Zairean army, taking control of several cities.
In their path were thousands of innocent Hutus who sought haven in a refugee camp, swelling the population to 400,000 making it the most densely populated refugee settlement in the world.
Amid the fighting, Roman Catholic Archbishop Christopher Munzihirwa was murdered and the world's humanitarian efforts dried up as many relief officials fled for their lives.
In 1994, when the refugees first flocked to Goma, more than 50,000 women and children died of cholera and other conditions in Zaire. Conditions today seem even more perilous.
"The tensions have just exploded," said Ashiagbor. "In some ways, it's already too late. The crisis is here."
Relief agencies are now beginning to provide food, shelter, water, medicine, and a host of other life sustaining goods to the refugees amid the threat of disease.
In order to accomplish this, safe corridors must be established so relief supplies can reach the needy and those refugees who wish to return to Rwanda may do so safely. "In a crisis of these dimension, there can be no humanitarian solution, the solution has got to be political," officials for the United Nations High Commis P Refugees said in a press briefing.
The World Council of Churches has also called upon political leaders to take international action to restore order, ensure human rights, and allow for voluntary repatriation of refugees and the relief agency Doctors Without Borders had asked "How many pictures of massacres and of dying babies will it take before the heads of state and the U.N. React?"
Related Sites on the Internet
The following links will take you to web sites related to Zaire, the refugee crisis and relief efforts. These sites are not part of Village Life and therefore, Kaleidoscope Ministries Ltd. Has no control over the content or availability of the sites.
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