With clashes intensifying in South Irumu, in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Orientale Province, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls on the parties to the conflict to respect the civilian populations and the integrity of medical facilities. The medical organization also reports that the level of humanitarian aid is insufficient to meet the urgent needs of people displaced by the fighting and calls on relevant groups to dedicate additional resources to this latest crisis.
Governmental forces known by the acronym FARDC have been battling for control of the area with the Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri militia (FRPI) since August. The fighting has forced more than 100,000 people to flee their villages and to live in constant fear of gunfire, robbery, and the systematic looting of their homes.
“The populations have simply been abandoned,” says Fred Meylan, MSF emergency coordinator in Geti.
In September, intense fighting took place within Geti state’s medical center, which receives MSF support. A Ministry of Health nurse was killed and three hospitalized patients were wounded. In addition, most of the area’s medical facilities have been looted and destroyed in recent weeks.
“This situation is unacceptable,” Meylan says. “Up to now, we have managed to maintain lifesaving emergency services and treat the wounded, but the parties to the conflict must respect the integrity of health care facilities."
Since the crisis began, MSF has conducted more than 17,000 medical consultations in Geti and Munobi, admitted 165 patients for emergency treatment and intensive care, and performed 43 operations on wounded patients, along with 17 deliveries by Cesarean section.
In addition to medical assistance in Geti, MSF’s teams are treating and distributing more than 100,000 liters of water per day to supply displaced populations living in makeshift shelters without drinking water. The organization has also built more than 350 latrines to prevent the risk of epidemics associated with the terrible sanitary conditions.
Some services have been interrupted, however. MSF had to postpone a planned measles vaccination campaign and reduce its teams following clashes close to its base in Geti.
Generally speaking, the humanitarian response remains largely inadequate, particularly in more stable areas around Lagabo, Soke, Songolo, and Malo, where the first displaced persons began arriving in late August, having left everything behind.
“They are struggling every day to meet their most basic needs,” Meylan says. “Today, most of them no longer have access to medical care. This is particularly worrisome as part of the region has been experiencing a measles epidemic for several months.”
“Humanitarian assistance must be strengthened in the areas that are not affected by the clashes,” he adds. “History is repeating itself. Once again, civilians are the first victims of the fighting.”
MSF has been working in Geti since 2006, when it provided assistance to people who had fled fighting between soldiers and militias. The organization has had a continuous presence there since 2008 through its support to the health center and the Geti general referral hospital, working with health authorities.