DRC: Aid agencies struggle to help the wounded and displaced after attacks
Room 8 of Bukavu Hospital’s operating centre is full. All the beds are occupied. Some patients are on mattresses laid out on the floor. With amputated limbs, bullet wounds, open machete wounds, serious burns - all 26 occupants, including children, are victims of the latest attack by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FLDR), one of the armed groups tearing apart eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“It’s a miracle from God that we find ourselves here,” says one of the victims, Mr. Bulambu. He is describing an attack that took place in early January in Muyulu, a village in the east of Shabunda, South Kivu.
This year, the UN is asking for US$719 million to fund programmes needed to protect civilians as well as provide food, health care, shelter, clean water and sanitation to millions of people affected by armed conflict, insecurity and diseases. Across the country, about 1.64 million people remain displaced.
Humanitarian agencies estimate that more than 60,000 people have been displaced over the past two months alone. Limited access and general insecurity caused by armed groups have prevented a major aid operation. Despite the difficulties of a full evaluation, aid agencies are preparing to respond to needs, including plans to deal with the rising risk of diarrhoea in reception areas due to limited clean water and poor sanitation.
One evening, he says, gunshots rang out—the universal sign that an assault was coming. A few minutes later the village was attacked: people were stabbed to death, houses burned and pillaged. Those who survived sought refuge where they could, notably in Nzovu village, around 30 kilometres away. After being admitted to the Nzovu health centre, Mr. Bulambu and other wounded people were evacuated to Bukavu.
In another room in the hospital’s operating centre, there are more wounded people. They have been there for two months, after an alleged FDLR attack in Shabunda. One person’s lips had been cut off and another had lost an arm.
In this region, where most roads are in a serious state of disrepair and communications are difficult, the number of attacks by armed groups has increased since November 2011. There was one vicious attack on New Year’s Eve and another on 4 January 2012.
South Kivu faces a complex humanitarian situation with a rising number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), insecurity due to armed groups’ attacks and poor infrastructure. More than half a million people are currently displaced in the province.
In 2011, 69 security incidents against aid workers were reported, one of which was fatal and cost the lives of five people from the NGO Ebenezer. Cholera is endemic, and since the beginning of the year the authorities have faced a new outbreak.
The main desire of displaced people is to leave host families and makeshift IDP sites, and to get back to their fields—the primary source of income for most Congolese. But their return depends on better protection by the Congolese Government.
"Our fields are far from the village, and we can’t go to them because of the FDLR. How will we live if we don’t have security? We won’t go home until the authorities have solved the problem of the FDLR," says Mr. Bulambu.