DRC 2002: No end in sight...

© Marcus Bleasdale Click on image for larger version. As the Mai Mai had been controlling the forest and harassing the civilian population for more than two years, cutting them off in the bush or in the villages with almost no food stocks to survive, malnutrition was appalling.
From April 2002 "temporary shelters", made of plastic sheeting and metal sheets distributed by relief agencies, popped up like mushrooms all over town. Although barely safe, these shelters were the only solution the victims had to start their lives again. Within the framework of the peace talks the government of Kabila and President Kagame of Rwanda signed an accord in July, committing Rwanda to withdraw its troops from DRC and Kinshasa to address Rwanda's security concerns in DRC. However, in the meantime, clashes continued all over the east of the country. In April fighting broke out in Shabunda area, South Kivu, between Congolese Mai Mai militias and RCD soldiers, preventing humanitarian organisations to bring relief for several months to a population already landlocked by the insecurity of the area. As the Mai Mai had been controlling the forest and harassing the civilian population for more than two years, cutting them off in the bush or in the villages with almost no food stocks to survive, malnutrition was appalling. A nutritional survey conducted in February 2002 had alredy showed a global malnutrition rate higher than 20% in the area (footnote 14). ON-GOING VIOLENCE IN THE KIVUS Patient, suffering from third-degree burns on the head and the body (Shabunda) In January 2002, I had to leave my village because of the insecurity; I fled to the forest, and I sought shelter in a hut made of leaves and branches. One day, the Mai Mai attacked us - they wanted to loot our goods and our food. At that moment, my baby was sleeping in the house; I was so scared that I just fled, leaving my baby behind. When I came back, the pile of clothes that was next to the incandescent lamp was on fire and my baby's skull was thirddegree burnt. My baby also lost a finger because of the fire. © Chris Keulen Click on image for larger version. We were listening to the radio but it didn't say anything about the volcano. We could only see people pass by carrying their goods, saying that the volcano was erupting. We didn't believe it was true.
MALNUTRITION AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THE WAR Patient, suffering from malnutrition (Shabunda) "My little daughter suffers from malnutrition; she has lost weight dramatically, she vomits after having eaten and her feet are swollen with oedemas. "My wife, her mother, was taken by the Mai Mai in May 2001, while she was working in the fields; she was out there with our oldest son and our baby, whom she was still breastfeeding. I have no idea what has happened to them. I remained alone with my three other children in Shabunda; unfortunately, one of them has died since then, because I was not used to being in charge of the children's health and I didn't react in time when my son had measles. "Now that my little girl is also sick, I am very afraid that the same thing will happen again and that I will loose her too. My third child has no health problems right now, but he is not strong and healthy. "It is very difficult for me to find food to eat; for the time being, it is dangerous to go to the fields and what is more, at the time when I should have sowed, my son had died - I was too disturbed to think about cultivating. My children's health is bothering me so much, that I cannot concentrate on my field. However, I will have go back as soon as I can, because I have no choice, since my wife was the one in charge of it before." THE ERUPTION OF VOLCANO NYIRAGONGO Guard "For me the volcano eruption has been as bad as the war itself; right now, my wife and my four little girls are still living in a displaced camp in Goma, in a hut made of rusty metal sheets. "We lost everything in the volcano eruption; when she saw our house burning, my wife fainted - the neighbours took care of her and brought her to Rwanda. "She left Goma only with two "pagnes"15 and the children. We had to start from scratch once again. "Our living conditions are very difficult right now - how can an adult like me live with his wife in a "house" where you can't even stand, together with four little girls? Besides, the owners of the land where the displaced camp lies want the field back - it's a school, and the children need it. I absolutely need to find a plot to settle down. With my salary, I will maybe be able to buy a bed and a mattress soon, and four metal sheets to build a home..." Domestic staff "The eruption of the volcano is something that nobody can forget; everybody is still talking about it - it raised many questions and problems. "That day we were at home, we were listening to the radio but it didn't say anything about the volcano. We could only see people pass by carrying their goods, saying that the volcano was erupting. We didn't believe it was true and then, the radio finally broadcasted the news - at 13. 30 pm, whereas the eruption had started at 7 am ! On top of everything, the radio was telling the population not to worry, saying that the lava flow wouldn't reach Goma. They said that those who would be caught fleeing with their goods would have their possessions confiscated by the authorities. "At a certain time, however, the radio told the people from several neighbourhoods to leave their houses. "When they went out of their house the lava flow was already very near. Many people had their goods burnt and they no longer have a house. My house was burnt aswell, and everything inside - I couldn't rescue anything. "Several NGOs distributed food and "reconstruction" kits to the victims of the disaster, but since the beginning, five months ago, I haven't received anything. "The "chefs de quartiers", who receive all the distribution cards and are supposed to hand them out to the people sell them instead. There are many people like me. Besides, the "temporary shelters" distributed by the NGOs are made out of plastic sheeting and therefore very unsafe - the young people come with knives, tear the sheeting apart and steal everything inside the houses." Administrator "When the Nyiragongo erupted I was on special assignment in one of our projects, in North Kivu - I had only one pair of pants and two shirts with me. My wife was in Goma with the children She was convinced that the lava flow would never reach the house and when she had to flee from the city, she also left without taking anything. "Unfortunately, the lava came down and swallowed everything. Since I had stopped studying I had invested in buying some land, building two houses on it, equip the houses with a radio, TV, kitchen, etc... It just destroyed eleven years of efforts - it gave me an awful shock, I will never forget it. "That night when I knew the people were starting to flee from Goma, I managed to call my wife on the phone She told me she was going to cross the border with Rwanda. Then the battery for her mobile phone ran out and it became impossible to reach her. I evacuated with the MSF team towards the south to Bukavu From Bukavu, the next morning, I went to Kigali, in Rwanda, and from Kigali, the following morning returned to Goma. At around three o'clock in the afternoon I received a phone call; it was my wife, finally. "She was crying on the phone, she could hardly speak - she told me she was still across the border, and was about to go back to Goma. She said she was going to spend the night at a friend's house. At six o'clock pm I arrived in Goma. First I went to the office and then I crossed the hot lava to go and pick up my wife. "When we saw each other again, we cried together. We had lost everything, and we didn't know where to start from again. "My wife is still traumatised by this event; I try to comfort her and to give her hope, I tell her that we are still alive... But she doesn't want to stay in Goma anymore, she would like to move to Kigali or Kampala in Uganda, but we don't have the financial means for that. The volcano made me very poor, and I just hope I'll be able to recover. Fortunately I still have my brain, I can keep on working and manage somehow. Now I live in a house that a friend of mine rents me for sixty dollars a months - it is less than half the normal price, because the owner knows I have lost everything and he is willing to help me." DESTITUTION AND MILITARY PRESSURE Patient, (Yahuma) "I am a villager - jobless, no function and I am known by the name of Y. Nineteen years ago when I was 32 I came here with my wife and two children. We had another seven children after that but due to the various epidemics here we are left with four. The other five all died. There is no health care for us here. "No school either; the children have to go to another village two hours walking distance from here. They leave at 05. 30 in the morning to reach the school at 07. 30 when classes start. "We have a very hard life without any development. "Every one of us has his own field. One has to in order to survive. We all have to eat, without food you cannot live. We are lucky with the very fertile fields we have, anything grows. "We even used to have a coffee plantation and planted cotton. We would sell the product to a factory in Kisangani. The factory doesn't function anymore and the owner, he was German I believe, left in 1963 when the war began. "We had coffee for a while after that, but without the insecticides everything was eventually eaten by the insects. "The military passes by here 5 to 6 times a week and we have to provide them with porters. It's a bother. "Today you've seen them with eleven persons carrying their goods. Some are from the next village and some are from our village. They have to walk for them to Lobolo, 29 km from here, where they then sell the goods they took from us, chicken, meat and manioc and then they buy soap and salt for themselves. "They do not get a salary. They do go after the unmarried girls as all young men do, but wouldn't bother married women. "Two years ago the frontline with the FAC was right here. That was a hard time. At night when our soldiers were absent the FAC would sneak in and take all they could find. Many of us fled into the forest for two months where we had to survive on the meat we could catch hunting and prepare it without salt Can you imagine that? I myself fled to Lokutu with my family. "Whenever we are able to sell some of our products in Lobolo we too buy salt, soap and sometimes clothes. That's all they have anyway. The roads used to be maintained by the government, nowadays we have to do it ourselves for no pay. "We hear about the government and the Inter- Congolese Dialogue but cannot follow what is happening. Only the responsible of the village has a radio, but batteries are expensive, one pair costing 70 or maybe 50 FC16. "So the best thing we have are our fertile fields and the worst are the conditions in which we have to live without any hope for improvement."