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South Kivu: A spiralling humanitarian crisis

22 Feb 2018
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More than a year ago, South Kivu, a province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) that is twice the size of Belgium, was home to 422,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had left their original homes because of increased violence and related insecurity. But as of 31 December 2017, the number of IDPs in South Kivu had swollen to 647,000.

South Kivu is the second most-affected province by population movement in DRC, after North Kivu and Tanganyika. Since June 2017, increasing insecurity has caused a rapid increase in displacement, notably in Fizi, a territory in the southern part of South Kivu. However, as needs continued to grow, a lack of funding forced the closure of 13 humanitarian programmes in South Kivu last year. Only half of the $812 million appeal for DRC in 2017 was funded, making it the lowest funding level of the past decade for that country.

About 141,000 of the 214,000 people displaced in 2017 in South Kivu are in Fizi. At least 5 per cent of the 647,000 displaced people are aged 60 or above. One of those people is Kadetua Mbabazi, who walked for three days from Kikonde to find refuge in Sebele, in Fizi territory, 25 km away.

Host families show solidarity

Most people fleeing violence arrive empty handed at the doorsteps of host families, who are at times perfect strangers or distant relatives. In South Kivu, 96 per cent of the displaced people live with host families, who represent their first line of assistance. The hosts and the newly arrived share food, water and space. It’s a remarkable example of solidarity, considering most host families are themselves going through hard times.

“We gave some clothes to those who arrived in our village and we try to share the little food we have with them,” explained Echochi Yohali, a resident of Simbi, a village about 35 km from Baraka in Fizi territory.

Despite their lack of resources, the IDPs try to earn their keep. They work in the fields for cash or for food, such as the staple, cassava. Some also collect wood in the forest to sell.

More children malnourished, thousands missing out on school

The vast green fields and the abundance of water in South Kivu belie the fact that malnutrition and food insecurity are rife in that province. Families whose food needs and incomes are based on agriculture have been forced to abandon their fields to stay alive. Each month, an estimated 1.9 million people in South Kivu do not even eat a meal every day.

Diseases that attack staple food, such as cassava and bananas, have aggravated the situation. Between January and November 2017, humanitarian actors distributed 824 tons of food, more than 25,000 farming tools and 168 tons of seeds.

At least 46,500 children with moderate acute malnutrition were treated between January and November 2017 in South Kivu, and almost 16,000 received Plumpy’Nut, an enriched dietary supplement, and other therapeutic food assistance. However, it is estimated that every month in 2016, 5,000 malnourished children under age 5 did not receive adequate treatment. Fizi territory has the highest rate of moderate malnutrition, also known as moderate wasting. This condition can be treated by providing children with nutrient-dense foods to meet their extra needs for weight and height.

In South Kivu, as in all other eastern provinces, more than 50 per cent of IDPs in all the affected provinces are women and children. Children pay a heavy price for the persisting insecurity in terms of their education. Forced to be on the run, an estimated 15,500 children in South Kivu missed out on school each month in 2016. Many children cannot afford school, contrary to the free education policy adopted by the Government. Between January and early December 2017, humanitarian actors were able to send more than 76,500 children back to school.

Cholera endemic

Cholera, a disease linked to consuming unsafe water or food and unhygienic sanitary conditions, is endemic in South Kivu. Forty-two per cent of the population do not have access to potable water, and 77 per cent do not have hygienic toilets. From January to December 2017, more than 13,000 cholera cases were reported, mainly in Fizi, Minova and Uvira. Last year, about 3.6 million litres of water was distributed and 260 chlorination points installed. Only a sustained investment in a clean water supply and improving sanitation and hygiene will eradicate this disease.

Besides cholera, measles, malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea are the most common diseases that ail people in South Kivu. Shabunda territory continuously reports high numbers of measles cases. In 2017, over 1,000 cases were reported in Lulingu area, in Shabunda, which is the second highest number after Fizi (2,652). Over 530,000 children aged between 6 months and 10 years were vaccinated against measles in December 2017 in Fizi and Uvira territories. However, mass movements of people disrupt vaccination programmes. Poverty also remains a major hurdle in accessing medical and health services.

Humanitarian access and funding

Aid workers function in difficult circumstances. Last year, at least 45 security incidents involving humanitarians were recorded between July and October in South Kivu.

Reaching communities remains problematic, as 65 per cent of South Kivu’s roads are not passable. It becomes even more difficult during the rainy season. To help improve access, part of the $6 million fund will be spent on rehabilitating the transport infrastructure in Fizi and Shabunda.

At the end of January 2018, almost 36 humanitarian actors were helping 194,000 people in South Kivu through 51 ongoing projects. In October 2017, humanitarian actors received $6 million from the DRC Humanitarian Fund to assist about 200,000 people in Fizi and Shabunda territories, and in neighbouring Kabambare (Maniema Province).

Last month, the Humanitarian Coordinator for DRC, Kim Bolduc, launched an appeal for 2018 for $1.68 billion—more than twice what humanitarian actors had thought they would need. This reflects a deteriorating situation across DRC’s central and eastern provinces, including South Kivu.

Photos: OCHA/A. Rime