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Rumors of War

September 5, 2007

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matthew De Galan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Imagine living here when it rains all night. Photo: Matthew De Galan/Mercy Corps

We are strangely isolated here, and we get our news from the front — just 15 miles away — in strange ways. Sometimes, friends at home text or email us. They seem to know more than we do. Sometimes, though, we hear from local sources, in random ways. Take today.

We spent all day in a planning workshop, talking about goals, objectives, activities, indictors. Chelsea, our food security officer, and I were walking back to the hotel when we ran into the woman who heads the World Food Programme office here, finishing up her evening jog along the lake. She told us that rebel troops had attacked and taken Sake, just 15 miles north, and 10,000 displaced people were flooding into Mugunga and Lac Vert, the very places where we spent so much time last week.

Mugur heard the same story from the MSF Holland security chief, and also from perhaps the best source of all — the drivers, who, no matter the country, always seem to know everything.

We were advised not to go past Mugunga, and to take caution even there. A bit later, the Mercy Corps team met in the bar, with the rain pouring down, and reviewed our security plan. The most extreme option is evacuation, but no one thinks it will come to that — there are a couple of thousand UN peacekeepers here in Goma. No one imagines the rebels want to take on the UN and its well-trained and well-equipped troops from India, South Africa, Denmark, Bangladesh, Turkey and elsewhere.

The rainy season has arrived, with torrential downpours each night. What must it be like for IDPs? About 2,500 have taken shelter at the school in Mugunga. I saw that school. It's not that big. I imagine many are sleeping outside, in the rain, and it's quite cold at night. Even the displaced with huts will be miserable. Some have plastic sheeting; but many more do not; last week they asked us for more sheeting, they said the rain was coming and without it the water would pour into their shelters, pour onto the dirt floors and turn the floors to mud. Now there are 10,000 more of them, and still more coming in, and the rain is plummeting from the sky.