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When I catch the eye of the woman in the first photo below and recall the camps for displaced people I visited a few years ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I know why an international arms trade treaty is more important than ever. Conflict, fueled by a steady flow of poorly regulated weapons, continues to drive families from their homes in Congo—and in many other places around the world.
In November, photographer Katie Holt snapped these photos. Rebel groups in Congo’s eastern provinces had forced tens of thousands of people to flee. Many sought safety in camps around the city of Goma. Study the pictures—the line of people lugging their belongings along the edge of the road; the plastic sheeting that serves as a home; the crowded water collection point—and you get a glimpse of what life is now like for countless Congolese.
“Chaos breeds chaos,” said Oxfam’s Humanitarian Coordinator Tariq Riebl in November. “Every day we hear of another attack against farmers as they work in the fields or traders as they go to market. There are hardly any places left that are safe from conflict and violence.”
Isn’t freedom from conflict and violence what we all want? The arms trade treaty could help pave the way.
The weight of conflict
People who flee conflict often escape with very few belongings. At a water point in Lac Vert Camp in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a scrap of plastic, twisted tight, helps to keep water sloshing from this jug. Oxfam has been providing aid, including water and sanitation services, to people in three camps around the city. “We can’t shout loudly enough,” said Oxfam’s Humanitarian Coordinator Tariq Riebl in November. “This violence has to end. It has caused decades of suffering and grinding poverty.”
On the move
In 2012, insecurity displaced more than 760,000 people in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. When government troops pulled out of much of the east to focus on a rebellion by a group known as M23, the number of other rebel groups mushroomed. By late November, at least 25 of them were active across the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu.
A rocky home
Anchored by sharp rocks on rough ground, plastic sheets serve as shelter for Mahawe Francini and her three children in Mugunga camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Like countless other families, Francini and her children fled their home when fighting broke out between M23 rebels and Congolese government soldiers.
Taps in camps around the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo provided a clean supply of water in November to some of the tens of thousands of people who had fled recent fighting. But shortages of water and power in other parts of the city had left thousands of people with no option but to pull water directly from a nearby lake, heightening concern about the potential spread of waterborne diseases.