Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Humanitarian crisis in eastern DR Congo worsens as fighting continues

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© UNICEF DR Congo/2005
Children in a camp for people forced to flee their homes, in Dubie, north Katanga province, DR Congo.

By Sarah Crowe

DUBIE, Democratic Republic of Congo, 30 January 2006 - A young mother’s wailing pierces the air, as a group of men prepare her baby’s grave. The funeral begins and, wrapped in a blanket, the baby is laid to rest on top of a banana leaf in the shallow pit. Now a mother no more, the young women collects herself and staggers away.

Her home is a temporary shelter in a huge camp in Mutabi, north Katanga province. The camp houses people forced to flee their homes by the ongoing conflict in DR Congo. The woman is among the 20,000 who fled here in terror from rebel attacks. For many it was a week’s walk through tough terrain.

Once they have reached the relative safety of the camp, people are given basic supplies including plastic sheeting, buckets, and cooking utensils, by UNICEF and partner Médicins Sans Frontières.

“It’s a question of shelter and food,” said David Delienne, head of UNICEF’s zone office in Lubumbashi. “There is food distribution, health assessment and health care.” Mr. Delienne said that the organization also works to help children with malnutrition and to provide school supplies, in order to help existing schools in the area absorb the influx of additional pupils.

More food aid needed

As this vast mineral-rich country heads towards democratic elections in June, there are still serious outbreaks of conflict occurring in the eastern part of the country. Tens of thousands of people in Katanga have now been displaced from their homes. The province had been relatively conflict-free until recently.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2005
The rebel attacks have forced some 20,000 people in Katanga province to flee for their lives.

“The rebels use axes and knives to kill people who resist their power,” says Kayuba Mushimi, a 25-year-old father.

 “There is absolutely nothing left in our village. Everything has been burnt to the ground. We’ve lost our homes, our livestock, our crops, everything,” said Gilbert Kwembe Ngela, who is acting as a representative of the displaced people at one of the camps. “We hope that things will settle down after the elections. It can’t go on like this.”

The food aid that is available is not enough; more is urgently needed. Maize supplies have mostly run out. Many babies are being fed watery manioc, which contains little nutrition. Death comes quickly to the most vulnerable people in the camps. Ninety people, most of them children and elderly, have died in the past two months. Diarrhoea and malaria, compounded by malnutrition, are the major killers.

A great-grandmother flees

Lying under green plastic sheeting, Ilunga Kapinga – 86 years old and a great-grandmother – describes how she fled to the camp. Riding on the back of her son’s bicycle, they travelled for four days, eating whatever they could find along the way, mostly wild mushrooms and berries.

“What we get to eat [here] is not enough. It’s not what I am used to,” she says, pulling at her thin skin. “That’s why I have such pains in my stomach all the time. I just lie here. I have no energy to do anything.”

Her son is a tailor and has taken up his trade again in the camp, trying to feed the many mouths in his extended family. But he’s not managing. The youngest children in the family are visibly malnourished.

There are fears among the people here that the government may force them to return home too soon, while the conflict is ongoing. For now they wait, and hope for the much-needed food aid to arrive.


 

 

Video

30 January 2006:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports on the dire situation facing women and children forced to flee their homes by the conflict in eastern DR Congo.

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30 January 2006:
David Delienne, head of UNICEF’s zone office in Lubumbashi, discusses the emergency response in eastern DR Congo.
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