Food distribution and additional assistance are urgently needed to prevent a further deterioration in the health of the population
Violent clashes between the armed group M23 and the Congolese army (known by the French acronym FARDC) in the territories of Rutshuru and Nyiragongo, in the province of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in recent weeks. About 117,000 people have been displaced since the end of March 2022, more than half of them after the escalation of violence on May 19, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
This recent massive displacement worsens the already precarious situation of displaced people in the two territories, many of whom have left everything behind and sought refuge in schools, churches or host families in the community.
Prior to the latest clashes in Nyiragongo, the territory hosted many people displaced by the May 2021 volcano eruption. fled to Uganda. Most have not yet returned home.
Precarious living conditions
“We are 18 families sleeping together, all crammed into one classroom,” says Noella, who lives with two of her children at the school in Kinoni village, Rutshuru, with nearly 350 other families. “We no longer have access to our fields. We eat what we can find, but often it’s barely once a day.”
In early May, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) set up a mobile clinic in the village of Kinoni, near the school where Noélla is staying. The clinic is running at full speed.
“We have done over 2,200 consultations since we started the mobile clinic, which means we are seeing [about] 120 patients a day,” said Foura Sassou Madi, MSF head of mission in the DRC. “The main diseases we see are malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhoea.”
MSF also organized a distribution of essential items, including plastic sheeting, buckets, cooking utensils and soap for displaced families staying in Kinoni. Our teams have built showers and latrines to improve living and hygiene conditions in the village.
“Many displaced people tell us that they have difficulty finding enough food,” said Foura Sassou Madi. “Some have been displaced for more than two months now. Displaced people in Rutshuru territory need a distribution of deteriorating health”.
Access to health care and drinking water is a priority
In mid-April, MSF began supporting health centers in Mungo and Rutsiro localities, Rutshuru, to ensure access to free health care for host and displaced communities.
“In April and May, we treated more than 1,100 displaced people in the health center,” said Ezéchiel Biriko, head nurse at the Rutsiro health center. “Some of them walked up to 5 kilometers [about 3 miles] to get here.”
Following the recent displacements, MSF is preparing to strengthen its response with water and sanitation activities and additional support to the health center in Rutsiro, where around 6,500 displaced people live.
Access to health care and drinking water is also urgent in Munigi, in Nyiragongo, where 16,000 people have taken refuge, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). MSF supports free healthcare for all patients and has set up a referral system for urgent cases to a hospital in Goma.
During the last week of May, MSF trucks brought more than 10,000 liters of drinking water a day to the health center and two other sites in Munigi where many displaced people have temporarily settled.
“Access to clean water is crucial to limit the risk of water-borne diseases, such as cholera, which is endemic in the region,” said Abdou Musengetsi Katumwa, MSF’s deputy medical coordinator in Goma.
*Armed conflicts, which have affected North Kivu for more than 20 years, continue to affect civilians. MSF has been present in Rutshuru territory since 2005 and currently supports four hospitals in Rutshuru, Bwiza, Kibirizi and Bambu, as well as a dozen health centres. In Goma, our teams have been involved in the response to cholera since 2008. *