Democratic Republic of the Congo: Humanitarian aid challenges in Rutshuru
The October 2022 resumption of fighting in North Kivu between the Congolese army and the March 23 Movement (M23) has forced thousands of families to flee their homes. The hostile, dangerous environment leaves them struggling to survive. “I returned from Nyiragongo disgusted by the human disaster that these months of conflict have caused. Once again, it is civilians who are paying the price,” says Rachel Bernhard, ICRC head of delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “These communities have been uprooted from their land, which is their only means of subsistence. They need to be able to return as a matter of urgency, so they can start to grow food again.”
According to the UN, the territory of Nyiragongo is currently hosting over 177,400 displaced persons. Most of them have taken refuge in Kibati or Kanyaruchinya. These two villages are located some 50 kilometres from the territory of Rutshuru, where the fighting is taking place, and about a dozen kilometres north of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. Needs are acute, both for the new arrivals and for those who were already living there. Priorities include accommodation, sanitation, health care, drinking water and food.
I’ve got nine children to feed. I have to send them out to beg at the market and along the roads, because it’s hard for me to find enough food,” explains Francine Twizeye (33). “When there isn’t enough food, we give our share to the children,” says Joséphine Habakurama (32).
Challenges to providing aid
Aid generally arrives unobstructed in the territory of Nyiragongo, but in that of Lubero, which is currently hosting over 98,000 displaced persons, humanitarian agencies are experiencing difficulties.
Repeated clashes between the parties to the conflict make it impossible to obtain guarantees of access to all areas. In addition, the rainy season is rendering the already difficult roads harder to negotiate. Mudslides have occurred at a number of locations, further impeding the delivery of aid.
The large number of sites where displaced people have taken refuge is also making humanitarian operations considerably more difficult, in the areas of both Nyiragongo and Lubero. The UN estimates that over 280,000 people have fled their homes since fighting in Rutshuru broke out in March 2022. This is a major population movement, and while humanitarian operations are underway, the needs are huge. Currently, those needs are much greater than the aid provided.
“The number of displaced persons is increasing daily. If the fighting doesn’t stop, we’re going to be facing a humanitarian crisis that will be difficult to control,” says Anne-Sylvie Linder, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in North Kivu. “We once again remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and their property.”
Difficult shelter and hygiene conditions
A mother, accompanied by three of her seven children, tries to find a dry place to sit in a hut two metres by two metres, covered by a plastic bag. By day, the rain is manageable. Between dusk and dawn, it’s a nightmare. “I’ve covered my house with plastic sheeting. When you’re displaced, you have no choice. You make do with what you have,” explains Sifa Rehama, mother of seven children. “My husband, my three youngest children and I all sleep here. The three oldest ones have to look after themselves, sleeping with neighbours or in another camp.”
Sanitary facilities are another big problem in this overcrowded environment. Aline Murarizi explains: “I got up at dawn today, but there were already people waiting in front of the only six latrines we have. I had to wait an hour for my turn. These queues sometimes provoke arguments.”
The unhealthy conditions are a breeding ground for disease. Cases of cholera have been reported.
ICRC activities since the resumption of fighting in Rutshuru on 20 October 2022
Kibati and Kanyaruchinya (Nyiragongo)
- Working with the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we are making phones available at five locations (Kanyaruchinya, Kibati, Kahembe, Don Bosco and Kanyabayonga), so that people separated by the fighting can exchange family news. Over 45,000 calls have been made since March 2022, and more than 34,000 of these have resulted in people re-establishing contact. Fourteen DRC Red Cross first-aiders are informing displaced persons about this service.
- Kibati health centre, which has the capacity to treat 20,000 displaced persons, has received medicines and consumables for the treatment of certain illnesses, especially malaria. The ICRC has provided medicines, consumables and equipment to Nyiragongo Hospital, which has relocated to Munigi.
- Working with the DRC Red Cross, we have given over 20,000 displaced persons access to drinking water using four water bladders, each of which has a capacity of 10 cubic metres. The ICRC has renovated 12 latrines at Kanyaruchinya Primary School, which is currently hosting displaced persons.
- The ICRC will shortly be providing aid in the form of cash to almost 48,000 people (31,000 displaced persons and 17,000 members of host families) in Kanyabayonga and along the route between Kanyaruchinya, Bulotwa and Kirumba.
- The ICRC is providing regular support to Luofu Health Centre and Kayna Hospital. The health centres in Kanyabayonga and Cepromi have received emergency kits.
- Sixteen people with weapon-related injuries have received treatment at Ndosho Hospital in Rutshuru, which belongs to the Community of Baptist Churches in Central Africa (CBCA).
The ICRC is visiting people detained in connection with the fighting, to offer restoration of family links services and to assess their conditions of detention. In line with its mandate as guardian of international humanitarian law, the ICRC is monitoring the conduct of hostilities and communicates its observations and recommendations to the parties concerned. That dialogue is confidential.
Carol Lumingu Kazadi, ICRC Kinshasa, +243 81 292 59 14
Tarek Wheibi, ICRC Dakar, +211 78 186 46 87