International Activity Report 2002
DR Congo: Quiet, We're Dying
Displacement, murder, rape and other violence, coupled with malnutrition, disease and the breakdown of the public health infrastructure: the hardship and suffering inflicted on the civilian population of the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of their country's ongoing conflict is overwhelming. Yet to date their struggle to survive has been a silent one, under-reported and neglected by the international community. In order that their voices may be heard, MSF published two collections of personal stories by Congolese civilians in 2002. The stories below are taken from one of these: R D Congo: Silence, On Meurt – Témoignages [DR Congo: Quiet, We're Dying – Witness Accounts]. A second collection, The War Was Following Me: Ten Years of Conflict, Violence and Chaos in the Eastern DRC, which documents the experiences of MSF national staff as well as patients, is available in 2 parts: Part 1 and Part 2.
Isidore B., a nurse, recounts how, given its isolation and the insecure environment, the health center where she works, which has just been looted, has decided to transfer its patients to another hospital. As many patients cannot afford the combined costs of transport, nursing and food, they have resigned themselves to remaining behind (Equateur province).
"Our health center is supported by MSF, but we are facing security problems and there are transport difficulties in delivering medicines to us from the health zone. Because of the insecurity, we are no longer supervised by our medical officer who last visited us in May 2000. And we ran out of medicines in April 2001.
Before the second war, we were also receiving medicines and medical equipment from some members of a Catholic religious order. One of the nuns worked here as a surgeon until May 1999, but everybody has left since the beginning of the rebellion.
Quite a number of surgical cases arrive here and we refer them to Basankusu. But many families are unable to afford the cost of traveling there: Basankusu is three days away by dugout canoe. Neither can they afford the cost of living near the hospital while the patient is being treated. Of those who do set out, we know that some die on the way because of the distance and the difficulties involved.
We normally receive about 1,000 new cases each month. I know that there are many more sick people in this area, but they stay home because they cannot afford treatment or because they are ashamed [to reveal their destitution]. We also take in-patients, but there have been no beds, no doors and no windows since everything was looted by passing soldiers in July 1999. We have no money to pay for repairs."
A. Ambuga, a widow, has lost three of her five children to dysentery and malnutrition (Equateur province).
"We were living in a small village, hunting and working in the fields. One day, my husband, not knowing that Basankusu had already been occupied by the rebels, went hunting just where FAC soldiers [Congolese army] were hiding and taking up defensive positions. They arrested him and threw him into a hole [prison], where he was kept for a day with nothing to drink or eat. Nobody in the village knew what had happened to him and we began to get worried. We decided to go and look for him making lots of noise on gongs, tam-tams and trumpets so that he would hear the instruments and find us. In fact, we met him about 15km from the village because it was God's will that the soldiers let him go.
Two days later, the village was surrounded by the same soldiers and my husband was again arrested and accused of scouting for the rebels. For that reason, he was locked up in our house and burnt alive. As all our belongings burned along with him and the whole village was in a panic, I took my five children and went into the forest where we remained for one month and five days.
I gathered what I could in the forest to feed my family. But the bad living conditions brought on an outbreak of malaria in my oldest child. Two of the other children then got diarrhea at the same time and they both died. Like their father, they had to be buried with no burial cloth and no coffin. Terrified, I continued my journey with my three remaining children. One could walk, but I had to carry the two others. We rested for four days in the first village we came to when we got out of the forest and then we reached Bokakata. Nobody helped us during that difficult period.
In Bokakata, the church gave us some manioc, fish and a cooking pot, as well as clothes, for we were almost naked when we came out of the forest. Two weeks later, all three children showed signs of malnutrition (edema and hair discoloration). My whole body was covered with scabies and mycoses [fungal infection], and I also had bowel problems, but there was no possibility of going to hospital.
I am unable to do anything but to watch my children and give them the same diet as everyone else. Last week, one of them died because of the malnutrition and the two others are not well at all. I'm afraid I may end up as the only living member of the family, but my future lies in the hands of God."
Césarie, displaced by the fighting, lost six of her eight children to malnutrition during the war (Nord-Kivu province).
I have been displaced since 1993, when the interethnic war broke out in the region and we had to flee. As malaria is endemic in the first town we reached, we had to move on after six months. Now, I am living here, but still in an unsafe environment with frequent attacks by the Interhamwe. The last attack was three months ago when they burned our houses. All my belongings have been looted several times.
Because of the attacks, we are often forced to flee into the forest where we build shelters with tarpaulins and branches. We stay there waiting for the situation to improve. You never know how long it might last: a few hours, a few days.
I am living here with my husband and my two children. I have already lost six children through malnutrition. It is a real problem in my village, but people don't admit it. They think the children's condition is due to something else, witchcraft, for example. However, I think that the malnutrition one of the children is suffering from now is due to a malarial infection that we could not afford to treat."
| The health situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo has become so serious that considerable human, material and financial resources would have to be mobilized in order to return to just about acceptable mortality and morbidity rates. Despite their constant efforts, aid workers in the DRC are left feeling powerless, forced to watch a humanitarian disaster silently taking place on an unprecedented scale.
– Dr. FranÃ§oise Saive and Jean-Marc Biquet, MSF-Belgium