Months on, humanitarian needs still high in DR Congo
Resina Love has been having recurring nightmares since she fled horrific violence in her village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ituri Province. She escaped last June with her grandchildren, leaving everything behind.
“My daughter, my son-in-law and two of my grandchildren were killed before my own eyes,” recalls the 52-year-old Congolese mother.
She walked with her grandchildren through the bush for five days, before finding safety in the town of Kasenyi, 35 kilometers from her village.
“We were tired, but we had to keep walking as we kept hearing gunshots,” she adds.
"We had to keep walking as we kept hearing gunshots."
Along with scores of others, Resina and her grandchildren now sleep out in the open next to a church in the Kasenyi community.
Resina is among over 360,000 Congolese people who fled their homes in June following brutal attacks in Ituri Province. Most of them walked for days in the bush and found safety in Kasenyi on the shores of Lake Albert, which borders Uganda.
The recent outbreak of violence follows months of simmering tensions. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced at the start of the year as a result of tensions between two communities.
Dheka Ndjengu fled with his eight children. He lost his 25-year-old son in the recent clashes and was unable to bury him.
“We escaped in an old dugout canoe which I paddled for more than four hours,” explains the 48-year-old.
He stopped to rest in the town of Tchioma and then continued onto Kasenyi, hoping it would be safer there.
“I don’t know what to do now,” says Dheka. “We are sleeping in a church with more than 400 hundred other people. It doesn’t provide the necessary privacy.”
Sifa Dorika, 18, is pregnant and plagued with worry over her unborn child’s future and her husband’s whereabouts. She also fled in June and found safety in the church, which serves as a communal shelter.
“My husband disappeared when we were escaping from our village,” she says. “I have no idea where he could be and I am afraid he might be dead.”
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has expressed great concern about the fresh violence and displacement. Over 110,000 people arrived in internally displaced people (IDP) sites in Djugu, Mahagi and Irumu territories between May and June. In addition, tens of thousands of people are staying with host communities in a region grappling with an Ebola outbreak.
In June, a spontaneous site, set up last year for some 1,900 people, received over 4,000 new arrivals in just three weeks. Many of the displaced are sleeping in the open or in public buildings, exposed to the elements and potential abuse. The mass displacement has also overstretched health facilities, placing people’s health at risk.
“Humanitarian access remains a major challenge,” says Marie-Helene Verney, the Head of UNHCR’s Sub-Office in Goma, North Kivu Province. “The main roads are slowly reopening but villages further inland are still difficult to access because of insecurity.”
“Humanitarian access remains a major challenge."
She adds that the flare up of violence is hampering efforts towards lasting peace.
“More than 18 months since the start of the crisis, the new outbreak of violence raises serious questions as to what long-term solutions would be available for the people of Djugu,“ she adds.
UNHCR has stepped up its response to the growing displacement crisis in eastern DRC.
Trucks carrying 90 tons of aid, including plastic sheeting, sanitary napkins, blankets, soap, sleeping mats and jerry cans, have arrived in Bunia, the capital of Ituri Province, and distributions have started in some of the sites.
UNHCR and partner agencies are building emergency shelters for 600 families in Kasenyi, while construction of emergency shelters is due to start in Drodro for 3,200 families in August.
As the population of the two existing IDP sites in Bunia has been overstretched in the past few weeks, preparations are underway to open a new site for some 10,000 people on the outskirts of the city, to relieve the pressure on existing sites.
Funding shortages are severely affecting displaced people’s ability to meet their own basic needs. By July, only 28 per cent of the total US$ 150 million required for UNHCR’s operation in the Congo had been received.
“Urgent financial support is needed to meet the basic needs of the displaced,” says UNHCR’s Verney.