The United Nations estimates that 200,000 Congolese have been displaced since fighting resumed in the east two months ago. Two million people are estimated to have fled their homes since 2007.
When massive population displacements happen, other problems abound. Internally-displaced persons (IDP's) don't necessarily get all the protections and aid that refugees (those who cross a border for political reasons) receive. IDP camps are notoriously disease-ridden; pack 40,000 people into a small area with no permanent toilets or clean water source - and do all of this just as one of the rainy seasons starts - and it's a matter of days before cholera, malaria, and a host of other ailments run rampant.
My contacts in Goma say that this year's round of fighting has been particularly bad because it's made food distribution very difficult. The violence coincided with the rise in food prices we're all experiencing, and rebel and army movements cut off the World Food Program's supply lines. Even hospitals in Goma weren't getting food rations for a few days earlier this month, nor was food going to the Mugunga camp, just outside the urban zone. If it's that bad in a city that is well-protected by peacekeepers, imagine what it's like in the countryside.
I'm working on an article about seasonal patterns of violence. (You know, in my free time.) It runs in cycles in the eastern Congo, and I'm pretty confident that I can explain why (Hint: it has NOTHING to do with harvests, lunar cycles, or erupting volcanoes. By the way, if anyone out there has thoughts on how to control for a volcano in a model, please leave a comment!). But whether that information can be used to prevent future conflicts - and therefore prevent the annual humanitarian tragedy that plays out year after year in North Kivu - is far from clear.