“I don’t know how my children can grow up in this violence”

The whole family was in the fields working when the shooting started. We ran away and walked three hours to Rumangabo in the rain “, says Ponsie Benda, 54 years old. As clashes between the armed M23 group and the Congolese army approached his village, this father of 13 children took refuge in the primary school in Virunga National Park in Rumangabo.

“We couldn’t even get home. We left with what we had on.”

Ponsie Benda

© Alexis Huguet

© Alexis Huguet

190,000 people in need

Like Ponsie, 190,000 people have had to flee their homes in the Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories following the resurgence of the armed M23 group and the periodic clashes between it and the Congolese army since the end of March 2022.

It was along the national road that connects Rutshuru to Goma, the capital of North Kivu, that most people gathered, often in crowded places. ” We sleep outside. I built this shelter with wooden sticks. I get banana and eucalyptus leaves to cover it. That way, the children will be somewhat sheltered says Ponsie. When he arrived with his family in Rumangabo, the classrooms at the school used as a shelter were already full and they had no choice but to sit outside in the courtyard.

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Adults and children prepare food in front of local shelters at the Rugabo Stadium informal displacement site in central Rutshuru.

Adults and children prepare food in front of local shelters at the Rugabo Stadium informal displacement site in central Rutshuru.

© Alexis Huguet

At the Rugabo stadium in the Rutshuru centre, more than 1,400 families have gathered. The High Commissioner for Refugees has built shelters, but despite everything, conditions remain extremely unsafe: around 35 families share an eighteen by five meter tent. ” When it rains, the water floods the ground in the shelters and we spend the night in the water “, describes Agrippina N’Maganya, 53, who arrived in Rutshuru with six of her ten children more than four months ago.

‘The others must be in Uganda today… I haven’t heard from them since the leak’

Agrippina N’Maganya

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Agrippina poses in one of the local shelters at the informal site for displaced persons at the Rugabo stadium.

Agrippina poses in one of the local shelters at the informal site for displaced persons at the Rugabo stadium.

© Alexis Huguet

Overcrowding in IDP sites, combined with the lack of showers and latrines, is a major risk factor in the event of the spread of infectious diseases, such as measles or cholera says Bénédicte Lecoq, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Rutshuru.

“People have empty stomachs”

Along with the lack of shelter comes the lack of food. ” Sometimes people from my village that I know give me some food that they get from the neighborhoods “, explains Obed Mashabi, 20, a refugee at the Rugabo stadium since the end of March.


© Alexis Huguet

“We have nothing to eat.”

Same story on Ponsie’s site: ” We eat boiled leaves from Monday to Sunday. My wife takes this to the fields and asks the owners. There is mutual help because the inhabitants know the suffering we are in. They share what little they have. »

  • Ponsie and his wife sitting in front of a plate of boiled leaves, the only food they managed to find around Rumangabo Primary School.

    Ponsie and his wife, sitting in front of a plate of boiled leaves, the only food they managed to find around Rumangabo Primary School.

  • A displaced child carries maize stalks on his head to make a fire for cooking, near the stands of Rugabo Stadium, which has been turned into a site for displaced people, in central Rutshuru.

    A displaced child carries maize stalks on his head to make a fire for cooking, near the stands of Rugabo Stadium, which has been turned into a site for displaced people, in central Rutshuru.

  • Agrippina has the last kernels of corn she has left to feed her family.

    Agrippina holds the last kernels of corn she has left to feed her family.

The people we treat have empty stomachs. Without an urgent increase in food distributions, the situation could worsen further “.

Benedikt Lecoq

At Rutshuru General Reference Hospital, the ward for severely malnourished children, supported by Doctors Without Borders, has been full for several weeks with a bed occupancy rate of 140%.

In the health structures that MSF teams support in the Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories, the average number of consultations often exceeds a hundred per day. day. The three main diseases observed are malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhoea.

Rachel, 20, was treated for malaria at MSF’s mobile clinic at Rugabo stadium. “Since yesterday I have had chills, fever, headache. This is the first time I come to the clinic for a consultation. »

Given the scale of the needs, our teams cannot be everywhere. The health structures are overwhelmed and lack medicine to a large extent. Faced with this emergency, it is crucial that several actors mobilize so that the entire population can benefit from free health services. “, explains Bénédicte Lecoq.

Beyond the immediate needs, the long-term consequences for affected communities are also a source of concern. Mostly dependent on agriculture, the lack of access to their fields for weeks or even months could exacerbate food insecurity for thousands of people in the region. ” We have food in the village, in the fields, but we can’t go back there. The war continues there. Everything must rot », laments Obed.

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A woman prepares food at dawn in front of local shelters at Rugabo Stadium's informal space for displaced people.

A woman prepares food at dawn in front of local shelters at Rugabo Stadium’s informal space for displaced people.

© Alexis Huguet

The latest outbreak of violence in Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories only exacerbates an already dire humanitarian situation, with an estimated 1.6 million people displaced and more than 2.5 million people in need identified in North Kivu province by June 2022.

Limited humanitarian assistance

While the crisis has already lasted several months, Agrippina, Ponsie and Obed all lament the lack of humanitarian aid received so far. ” I never received any food distribution, neither the basins nor the pots, nothing says Agrippina. ” Nobody came here. If we had gotten help, we wouldn’t be left like this adds Ponsie.

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Displaced people, including children, stand in the classroom at Rumangabo Elementary School, which in recent weeks has been turned into an internally displaced site housing more than 3,000 people.

Displaced people, including children, stand in the classroom at Rumangabo Elementary School, which in recent weeks has been turned into an internally displaced site housing more than 3,000 people.

© Alexis Huguet

For Agrippina, the hope of returning fades as the weeks go by. ” I no longer hope to come home soon. There is no improvement she says tiredly. A despondency that Ponsie also shares.

“Why is there always war in North Kivu? This is not the first time we have run away. I don’t know how my children can grow up in this violence.”

Ponsie Benda

What do the MSF teams do?

Our teams continue to adapt their response as the situation and needs evolve. We are supporting health centers in Rubare, Kalengera, Munigi and Kanyaruchinya and have set up two temporary clinics at Rugabo stadium in Rutshuru center and next to Rumangabo health post where many displaced people are gathered. MSF has also built latrines and showers in several places and is helping to improve the water supply. In Munigi in particular, our teams deliver drinking water every day to four locations, in addition to the health center, and have distributed hygiene kits – including soap, jerry cans and sanitary napkins – to more than 1,000 households.

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The MSF team is arranging the tents for the mobile clinic where medical consultations take place in Rumangabo.

The MSF team is arranging the tents for the mobile clinic where medical consultations take place in Rumangabo.

© Alexis Huguet

MSF is also present in Kisoro Territory, Uganda, to provide assistance to people who have fled across the border. Our teams support Bunagana Health Center and Kisoro District Hospital. In the Nyakabande transit camp, MSF provides primary health care and has built 20 semi-temporary shelters as well as around 50 showers and latrines.

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