As the situation in Bunia in northeastern DRC seems to have calmed down it remains unstable and the population suffers greatly from the consequences of an ongoing war. MSF is present in Bunia and is trying to meet the most urgent humanitarian needs.
Coming from Uganda, Bunia lies behind the mountains of Rwenzori embedded in a green, lush landscape. Seen from the airplane, Bunia seems like a nice, big town. If you did not know that there was a war going on, you might be tempted to visit. But something is not right - parts of Bunia are empty, no soul to be seen walking anywhere. Bunia is a war zone. This recent battle has been going on for weeks now and has brought all the misery that goes with a conflict: Wounded, sick and displaced people, families separated and torn apart, hunger and distress.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been back in Bunia since May 15 of this year. In the beginning of May the team had to pull out because of severe clashes. But now a team of five has returned and is attending the most urgent needs of the population. Amidst the five there is an anaesthetist, a surgeon, nurse, logistician and a head of mission.
Living conditions for the team in Bunia are very low; three tents pitched within a secured compound near the airport. There are no trees to give shade, so during the day these tents become saunas.
As I landed in Bunia that morning the situation in seems calm. People are walking on the dusty streets; there is even something like a market going on outside on of the camps, where about 4,000 displaced people have found a rather miserable shelter. People carrying their belongings on their head are moving back into town. It seems as if life is returning to Bunia. But still: Some parts of the town are deserted, and if you cherish your life, you really stay out of there.
The peace is clearly superficial. There are children here walking around with Kalschnikovs (machine guns). And clearly you do not want to interfere with any of those armed "fighters" - who are everywhere. The situation remains volatile and the tension is high.
However, the MSF team is mainly moving between the airport, an old supermarket called "Bon marché", where MSF is setting up a new clinic, and the other the clinic in the centre of town. Staffers are able to venture out to assess the situation and to get wounded people out of places where shootings took place. In addition, the team now visits the main hospital of Bunia on a daily basis. It was not safe to go there before now.
Although there are patients, the hospital is far from being safe. It is out of question for MSF to place volunteers there.
There are patients in the hospital who need to be referred to the MSF clinic, so the team is looking for ways to do it on a regular basis.
Patients in the hospital are desperate for need. "Don't forget us! Please! Don't leave us", is what I hear more than once during my visit of the hospital.
Because of the security situation, the lack of security in the hospital, and because MSF needs to be able to treat more patients, a new clinic in the old supermarket 'Bon Marché' has been set up. It lies between the airport and the MSF clinic in the centre of town.
The clinic is empty building that is being converted into a makeshift clinic. The former grey cement walls have been painted yellow, which gives them a more welcoming look. Plus, electricity and a water system have been installed. The clinic should be finished and ready to welcome about 100 patients this week.
Until 'Bon Marché' is ready, the MSF anaesthetist and the surgeon are supporting the clinic in the centre of town. They are mainly operating on badly injured people with machete injuries and gun shot wounds. Some of them need to have amputations; there are children here who have lost and arms and legs.
The two doctors also assist in the maternity ward. In Bunia at least two babies are born each day.
At the moment MSF is doing about 15 to 20 surgical interventions and more than 100 consultations a day.
On top of this MSF is now facing another challenge. Three people have been diagnosed with cholera - one of them died already. So a tent has been set up in the centre of town to treat cholera suspects and cholera patients.
A full MSF medical charter is scheduled to be sent with tons of material to fight an outbreak: tents, infusions, chlorine and other logistical material.
The humanitarian situation is demanding and the general situation remains unstable. And although during my visit the situation remained calm, the moment the airplane took off, shooting started again in the south of town. Fortunately no one was hurt that evening.
But before the airplane landed in Bunia for a second time two days later, another shooting incident took place and five people were wounded and treated by MSF. This time, as I waited for the plane to take off to take us back to Kampala, I could hear shots outside of town. .
On top of this, MSF is now facing another challenge. Three people have been diagnosed with cholera - one of them died already. So a tent has been set up in the centre of town to treat cholera suspects and cholera patients.