Multiple Conflicts in Eastern DRC Increase Humanitarian Needs

MSF Expands Emergency Medical Programs in Response

MSF is providing aid to thousands of people in displaced by conflict in eastern DRC.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has expanded its emergency medical programs in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in response to increasing humanitarian needs in the region.

“We’re witnessing ongoing mass population movements across the provinces of North and South Kivu, with entire families fleeing multiple conflicts,” said MSF head of mission Andrew Mews in Goma, capital of North Kivu Province. “The proliferation of violence in the region is forcing huge numbers of people to leave their homes in search of safety.”

Last week, an MSF emergency intervention started in the unofficial Muganga I camp 20 kilometers [about 12.5 miles] west of Goma, where approximately 17,500 people have spontaneously settled and are living in inhumane conditions. The current ratio of people to latrines is over 1,000 to 1, well above any acceptable level. MSF is providing free health care in the camp, and is working to improve water and sanitation facilities.

Another new MSF project is providing emergency support to tens of thousands of people who have settled in the village of Kanyaruchinya, 10 kilometers [about six miles] north of Goma. The team currently perform around 3,000 consultations a day at the health center and have set up a cholera treatment center to address an outbreak of the disease. Measles vaccinations are also currently underway in the area.

In the Masisi district of North Kivu armed groups have increased their attacks on villages, targeting civilians. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes. MSF mobile medical teams are providing urgent assistance to the people displaced.

In the neighboring province of South Kivu, emergency programs in Minova and Kalungu that were set up earlier in the year to provide free medical care to an influx of people newly arrived in the area will be extended for at least the next six months. Mobile clinics and health centers have treated nearly 10,000 people so far. A new health center in Numbi was also added last week.

People who have managed to reach official camps represent a fraction of those actually displaced. Many more are hiding in the forests of the interior, cut off from medical care and difficult to reach. Others are living with Congolese host families, often strangers who share their food and living quarters with those on the run.

What follows are testimonies from people who've been directly affected, in some cases several times, by the violence:

Surviving a Bullet Wound

DRC 2012 © Juan Carlos Tomasi

David Enabukonjo

David Enabukonjo uses a crutch to climb to the top of a hill in Bisisi, in eastern Congo. From here he can look out over a lush green landscape of forests and villages that belies its recent history of pain and war. Clashes between armed groups and attacks against villages in the area have caused large numbers of people to leave their homes. Some have sought refuge in the town of Bisisi, David among them. Dressed in a grey checked shirt and blue jeans, the 33-year-old picks his way around the tents sheltering displaced people in the town. We talk to him in a nearby abandoned church. He tells us that he was in Cibinda, not far from Bisisi, when an armed group attacked the town on January 2, 2012.

“They arrived and they started burning houses, killing people, and raping women in front of their children,” says David. He tried to run away but was shot in the thigh. “After that, my family tried to find me, but at the beginning they couldn’t because I was hiding in the forest for a couple of days.”

David could finally travel to Bisisi in search of safety. David’s bullet wound was serious, and he was taken for treatment to Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). When his wound had healed sufficiently, he returned to Bisisi, a remote town reached by poor roads.

MSF is supporting a health center in Bisisi to help alleviate the suffering of people like David, stranded here by war and waiting for a time when they can either go back to their villages or find a new home.

A Life on the Run

DRC 2012 © Juan Carlos Tomasi

Shamamba Katone

“We have been forced to escape war eight times now,” says Shamamba Katone. The 69-year-old sought refuge in Kalungu, a town in eastern Congo, along with his seven children and 12 grandchildren. Despite the intense heat, he is dressed in a jacket which stays on throughout our conversation.

Shamamba is from Zilaro, a town some 25 kilometers [approximately 15.5 miles] away. But as he talks, he mentions more and more towns that he has had to call home. “The first time we were attacked, we escaped to Bunyakiri,” says Shamamba. “Then we came back to Zilaro, but we had to run away again.” He is not clear about exactly when every displacement happened, nor does he remember a time when there was peace in South Kivu. But he does know the high price he has had to pay because of war: six of his family members lost their lives in the violence.

Shamamba also knows too well the reality of being uprooted time and time again. “You go and then come back,” he says. “And when you come back you find your home burnt to ashes.”

 "We Were Told All Our Houses Had Been Burnt"

DRC 2012 © Juan Carlos Tomasi

Sara Machozi

Sara Machozi and her family fled their village after fighting between armed groups in Kuziza, in South Kivu. They are staying in the town of Kalungu, but the 33-year-old mother of three is anxious about her family’s future and their lack of resources.

“We were at home and we heard the sound of the bullets,” says Sara. “We decided to escape to Minova, and that’s why we are here.” Forced to run away with virtually nothing, their only aim was to survive. “On the way here, we starved and got sick. We could not bring anything with us, not even money,” she says.

They escaped without injury or loss of life, but now her family is facing a dire situation in Kalungu with no hope of returning home. “Here we are suffering from hunger,” says Sara. “We would like to go back to our village, but it is not safe. When we got here, we were told all our houses had been burnt.”

A Family Destroyed by Conflict

DRC 2012 © Juan Carlos Tomasi

Birihoya Bokani

A shabby building in Minova, on the shores of Lake Kivu, prompted MSF to launch an emergency response. The house was crowded with families who had fled two different conflicts in eastern DRC. When they are sheltered by host families, the needs of displaced people can easily go unnoticed, but this overcrowded building made them clearly visible.

Sixty-year-old Birihoya Bokani has been sheltering in the house since June, after his hometown, Ufamando I, was attacked by an armed group. His wife and two of his nine children were killed in the attack.

“When my wife was about to flee our home, armed men shot at her,” he says. “Lots of people were murdered in the fields and lots of girls aged between 12 and 15 were raped.”

As Birihoya tells the painful story of what happened to his family, one of his daughters plays with the buttons on his shirt. The eight remaining family members have no permanent shelter, but they hope that together they will manage to survive. 

MSF has been present in DRC since 1981 and delivers primary and specialized hospital care in health facilities and through mobile medical clinics throughout the country.