Unknown to the world, the Republic of Congo's Department of Pool is suffering from a social and economic crisis that has resulted in the deaths of scores of people, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a new report released last week.
"The lack of access to health services as well as insecurity and logistics problems which prevented assistance, led to a humanitarian crisis which is reflected in increased mortality and morbidity figures, growing numbers of malnutrition and a generally high vulnerability of the population," OCHA said in the report, titled "The Pool, a Neglected Humanitarian Crisis"
The report is the result of several missions to the Pool by OCHA and three other humanitarian UN agencies - the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Food Aid Organization (FAO) - throughout 2004, and paints a grim picture of this southern region of the country.
The teams visited Kinkala, the main district of the department, and the districts of Mindouli in the west and Mayama and Kindamba in the northwest, all three centres of economic activity before the war.
Now all three places suffer from the aftereffects of violence and destruction, which resulted in serious social and economic dislocation and continued suffering of the population.
Most affected are the villages and towns along the Congo-Ocean railway line that connects the capital, Brazzaville, and main port city of Pointe-Noire. Most settlements along the railway line have been partially or totally destroyed. Hardest hit are the towns Loulombo, Kinkembo, Massembo-Loumaki and Kingoyi.
"The zone of Mayamba-Kindamba is a special case due to its geographic location, close to the bastion of the ex-rebels of Loukouo. It is important to note that the northwest of Pool received humanitarian aid far later than the south and the east of the region," OCHA said.
The report lists all relevant information and analysis - important indicators for every district. According to a 1996 census, the district of Kinkala counted about 29,700 people in 52 villages before the conflict. Kinkaly-Commune alone had 14,423 inhabitants. Now more than half this number are in need of support to be able to take up their basic economic activities: subsistence agriculture, gardening and livestock rearing.
Mindouli District, with a population of 46,276 counted in the 1996 census, has been particularly hard hit during the conflict. The majority of the population has fled to other regions of the country and many are still hiding in the forest.
Mindouli town previously had almost 18,000 inhabitants, now just about 11,150. According to OCHA, the town "does not give the impression that it has recovered much" from the destruction.
Kindamba and Mayama have been equally punished by the conflicts there since 1998. Before the war, the population of Kidamba exceeded 18,000 - now it stands at just 11,000. Some villages are totally empty now.
Along the main road between Mayama and Kindamba, four villages have disappeared. A part of the population of Mayama and Kindamba districts has retreated to the North to Mati, Ignie and Brazzaville and the others remain in the forest.
According to information furnished by the authorities, the majority of Mayama town residents are still missing. From 2,800 persons, only 700 are accounted for. The population of the whole district shrank from almost 8,000 to 4,100 people. Some of them settled in Ignie in the north of the country.
OCHA reported, "The very widespread practices of looting, murder and armed threat have forced more than half the population of Pool to dislocate. Whole communities have been uprooted and villages emptied of people.
"Most of the towns and villages have regained only about half or two thirds of its original population - the Pool and its population deteriorate progressively."
According to OCHA, the vaccination coverage of the Pool population is about one-third below the country average of 61.5 percent and about the same in the poorest sub-Saharan countries and other war-torn places such as Sierre Leone.
The authors of the OCHA report noted an increase in the mortality of mothers. Thousands of female victims of sexual violence and psychological trauma have no access to adequate aid and psychological support. Sexual violence is also thought to have had an impact on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the region.
In the district of Kinkala, just about half of all the health centres are operational.
Since 1999, the vast majority of all the children in the Pool stopped going to school. The professionals have left the region, the schools have been looted and destroyed and the national government institutions, which would be responsible for reconstruction, do not react to the situation, OCHA said. Only one book is available for 20 school children, and only one chair for six. Currently, more than half of all schools remain closed.
Much also needs to be done in terms of child protection. Many children had been enlisted into armed groups and were sexually exploited and abused.
Until now a vast portion of the Pool remains inaccessible to humanitarian aid.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions