Far from the cameras, a humanitarian crisis is affecting the southern part of DRC’s North Kivu province, with almost no aid organisations on the ground.
For years, the territories of Masisi, Walikale and Rutshuru, in the southern part of North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, have been plagued with armed violence and banditry. In the past months, these armed clashes have intensified, further aggravating the dire humanitarian situation, leading to significant numbers of displaced people and worrying signs of malnutrition, sexual violence and gunshot wounds among them.
The 'Little North' of North Kivu
“Since the start of the year, the number of victims of sexual violence treated by MSF in Masisi has doubled compared to last year, and we have seen an increase in malnutrition cases”, says Ewald Stals, MSF field coordinator in Masisi health zone.
“The escalation of armed clashes has also led to more people being treated for bullet wounds, and to a surge of displaced families arriving in already overcrowded camps where access to water and sanitation is scarce. Unsurprisingly, cholera cases have been reported and we’ve had to rapidly set up a cholera treatment centre.”
Despite this critical situation, these territories – often referred to as the ‘Little North’ of North Kivu in the aid sector – suffer from a glaring lack of assistance from humanitarian organisations.
“In recent years, several NGOs have left the ‘Little North’ because of insecurity, difficulties in movement around the region, and a lack of funding,” says Karel Janssens, MSF Head of Mission in DRC.
“Given this reduction in the number of organisations, we have been responding to an increasing number of medical, but also non-medical, needs, especially in camps. Now we’re running at maximum capacity, and other emergency organisations must urgently come back and help respond to the massive humanitarian needs on the ground.”
In the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru and Walikale, more than 687,500 displaced people now live in camps or are hosted by local families, with worrying levels of malnutrition and sexual violence.
A 12 years old girl in Katale Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp in Masisi territory. She does her homework during the last daylight hours in front of her hut.
A child goes out from his family hut at the Bukombo IDP Camp in Masisi territory.
A refugee child in his bed at the warehouse of the Masisi church where several families sought refuge, fleeing the violence in the area.
Portrait of two children that just woke up in a warehouse of the Masisi church where several families sought refuge, fleeing violence in the area.
Avocados sold at the Louashi local market, Masisi territory.
In a context of violence and high insecurity, accessing fields has become very dangerous.
Especially for women.
"Our community needs food because we don't have any access to our fields anymore, we are hungry".
Esperance Zawadi standing with her children at the Katale IDP camp in Masisi territory. She arrived at the camp 2 years ago, she tried to find some money working for others in the fields or transporting goods for 1000fc per day.She didn't receive any help during the last 6 months and her children suffer from malnutrition.
Due to the insecurity and the danger of being raped, Buira Bushashire doesn't have access to her own fields.
She is a Congolese IDP, standing at the barracks of Masisi's church after running away from her village, Lushubere, due to the violence done to women, the destruction of their houses, the robberies and the killings of their family members.
Since two months ago, she is living here with her husband and her six children and other seven families in the same house. When she fled her home, she was not able to take anything with her. Nowadays, she has only a few blankets given by MSF outreach team and tries to earn some money working in the fields.
Nyanzira fled her village, Lambula, due to the violence and nowadays she lives with her family in a host village, Bondede.
Members of an armed group attacked Bondede looking for money and goods when she was at home. They broke the door and shot her in the leg, in front of her children, before stealing all the money she had at home. A few minutes later, other women of the village came to rescue her and they all went to hide in the forest until the militias left the town. Then her neighbours brought her to the hospital on a bamboo stretcher.
Portrait of Fora at the Masisi General hospital. Following a dispute over land rights and property, she was attacked with a machete by members of her husband's family.
Portrait of Nyanzanmaobi with her children at the Bukombo IDP Camp. She arrived 6 months ago with his husband fleeing from violence.
Nowadays, she works for others to find some money to feed her family: "It is really difficult to find some jobs beyond transporting heavy good for local traders. We struggle to feed our families and our children got sick easily from malnutrition".
MSF is one of the last organisations providing emergency support in these territories
From January to September 2019, MSF teams working in the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru and Walikale treated more than 11,220 malnourished children, 2,310 victims of sexual violence and 1,980 people with weapons injuries.
For months, MSF has been advocating for the on-the-ground return of other humanitarian organisations. These efforts resulted in the arrival of a handful of organisations with temporary funding from the DRC Humanitarian Fund in mid-November.
“This support is temporary and far from enough to meet the needs,” says Janssens. “Given the scale of the crisis, a much larger humanitarian response is needed in southern North Kivu, with organisations being present on the ground and benefitting from longer-term funding. The Humanitarian Response Plan 2020 for DRC must clearly take this into account in its upcoming revision.”