Desperate situation for thousands of displaced in DR Congo's Katanga Region

© Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Newly arrived displaced people await to be registration in a makeshift camp, December 6, 2005, in Dubie, Katanga Province in Congo, DRC, after fleeing fighting between the Congolese army and Mai-Mai rebels eastern Congo. They received blankets, plastic sheeting, cooking utensils and a food ration from MSF. About four million people have died in Congo since 1996, making it the deadliest humanitarian crisis in recent memory. Most of people have died of preventable diseases such as malaria, measles, diarrhea, respiratory infections and malnutrition. The health system has collapsed and very few people have access to healthcare.
"There has been a real shortage of assistance and many people are still in a desperate state," said Van Bavel. "With the onset of the rainy season this month, we fear that this situation risks worsening."
Fleeing fighting between the government army and a local militia known as the Mai Mai, in the past two months more than 18,000 people have sought refuge in the village of Dubie in the troubled Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Many have arrived in a precarious state of health with no more possessions than they are able to carry.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which has set up three camps in the area is extremely worried about the state of the health of the displaced. The population of the village has almost trebled with the recent influx, putting an enormous strain on already limited resources such as medical care and food. Mortality among both the displaced and the local population is high.

Due to insecurity, many people had already been living in the bush around their villages without adequate shelter, food or healthcare for months before their flight to Dubie.

"MSF was already working in the area with a hospital in Dubie and health centres in surrounding districts, but dealing with such an influx of people, many in a terrible state of health, has been overwhelming," explained MSF project co-ordinator Goedele Van Bavel. "Food assistance in particular has been in great shortage with promised supplies severely delayed."

Since the beginning of the arrivals, MSF has constructed three separate camps and distributed essential basic items such as plastic sheeting for shelter and utensils for cooking. Mobile medical clinics have been set up in the camps, which carried out 1,224 medical consultations in the first three weeks of January alone and a vaccination campaign against measles is on-going.

The major pathologies are malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhea. Severe malnutrition has also been a major issue with 56 admissions into the MSF therapeutic feeding programme in December alone.

Whilst new arrivals to the camps has slowed to a trickle, the strain on MSF's medical facilities remains enormous. Currently, over 50 children are being treated in a pediatric ward designed for only 21.

"There has been a real shortage of assistance and many people are still in a desperate state," said Van Bavel. "With the onset of the rainy season this month, we fear that this situation risks worsening."