The massacres between the Hema and Lendu communities that so violently marked the history of Ituri province in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the early 2000s reignited in December 2017. Today, approximately 200,000 internally displaced people are lacking essential means such as water, food and health care. Hundreds of thousands of others are living with host families.
People forced to flee
“I live in the Tse Lowi [camp site] with my son and six grandchildren. In February, it will be two years since we had to flee our village. Armed men descended on the village after dark, setting fire to our houses and killing people in a most dreadful way. My son’s wife died that night. They burnt down my house and we had no choice but to flee in the middle of the night, taking nothing but the clothes on our backs. We walked for three days and spent three nights sleeping in the bush to get away from the attackers. I was scared. We finally reached Tse Lowi on the third day”, explains Yvonne, sitting in front of her straw hut, barefoot and wearing a tattered dress. Inside the hut, one of her grandsons is stoking the fire crackling beneath a bubbling saucepan. The hut seems fragile; as if it could go up in flames with the slightest gust of wind. It’s hard to imagine how eight people can sleep in this small space, which serves both as bedroom and kitchen.
Dozens of makeshift camp sites have sprung up in the hills of Nizi. They can be distinguished by their straw roofs while more established settlements sometimes have tarpaulins to protect the shelters from the rain. The most fortunate ones live in buildings built by humanitarian agencies. Still, none of the sites cater sufficiently meet the needs of the displaced; they lack food, clean water and sanitation. People are developing preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea, malnutrition, respiratory infections and malaria. Thousands of children are affected and killed by these illnesses. According to recent surveys carried out by MSF, the mortality rate is three times above the emergency threshold among children under the age of five who arrived during April 2019.
Providing care to the recently displaced in Tse Lowi camp
We have set up community health posts in nearly all of the camps in the area. They are run by a member of the community who has been trained to recognise the most common illnesses. They measure the children’s mid-upper arm circumference using the MUAC tapes to detect malnutrition, they carry out rapid tests for malaria, and check for fever and diarrhoea. They have a stock of easy-to-use medicines such as Paracetamol and antimalarials which they use to provide initial treatment, and if needed, refer sick children to one of the seven health centres supported by us. There is an MSF nurse working in each health centre to assist the local health staff. From there, seriously ill children are referred to Nizi General Referral Hospital for hospitalisation and specialist care. At Nizi Hospital, we support the ministry of health-run intensive care and resuscitation unit, the paediatric ward, the nutrition and post-natal units. We aim to treat children as early as possible to avoid medical complications. Given the huge needs in the region, the occupancy rate of the paediatric ward has often gone over 100%, requiring us to increase the capacity of the inpatient department. Today, the paediatric ward has a total of 56 beds.
Increased needs for IDPs in Kambe camp
Kambe camp was built seven months ago and is currently home to 426 households that share just four makeshift latrines and have nowhere to shower. Kambe camp is divided into four blocks, with over 300 people living in each block. The small hut at the end of the block is the only toilet; there are no showers, so people often wait until it’s dark, when nobody can see, to wash. Food is very scarce with few plots of onions, pumpkin and potatoes that are grown. There isn’t enough food to feed everyone and the nearest water source is a 45-minute walk away.
Since December 2019, MSF has scaled up its activities in order to respond to the needs of the displaced. However, the current level of assistance is not sufficient, and people are still living in extremely poor conditions. The humanitarian community in Ituri needs to urgently address this crisis and scale up assistance.