In North Kivu province of DRC, villages have been left empty, farms are overgrown and shopping centres desolate due to conflict. Since March 2022, over 600,000 people have fled from their homes and sought refuge in collective centres such as makeshift camps, school yards and church grounds in Nyiragongo, Kanyabayonga, Sake, and Goma. People living in these centres, who are primarily women, were forced to flee their homes with only the possessions they could carry.
Adeline, a mother of four, said: “When the war started, I was at home with my four children. It was not easy to hear the detonations of the weapons, we were afraid, and we left. The war made us abandon everything, walking long distances and exposing us to many dangers. We all arrived here in Mudja, but we were very tired. Living in a camp is very hard because having food or sleeping properly is difficult. There are health problems, and when it rains, we are worried because this small tent does not protect us properly.”
Esther is a 65-year-old mother of six who is disabled. She had to endure a torturous journey to flee the violence: “I decided to leave my home earlier than most. We traveled on foot for three days through the forest before we arrived at the camp. Living in a camp is like exposing yourself to death, you rarely work, and if you manage to eat, it is never enough. We live in fear, not knowing when it will end and in what condition we will find our homes and goods that we abandoned.”
Emerance is a 23-year-old wife, mother of two children, and is expecting her third child any time now. She was tending to the field when the sound of heavy guns and artillery neared her village, forcing her to flee. “My husband asked me to leave because I am pregnant. He stayed to observe the situation. My two children went to stay with my mother at another center. When I arrived in Goma, I learned that there was a camp for displaced people in Mudja, so I came here hoping to get some assistance since I have nothing.”
Since arriving, Emerance has not had any contact with her children. She explains that this is just one of her many challenges: “If I had the money, I would have bought plastic bags (tarpaulin) to cover myself and a mattress to lie on. The challenge is if I get any money, for example, 1000 Congolese Francs ($0.45), I would rather buy sweet potatoes to eat so that I do not starve.”
Sidibe Kadidia, CARE DRC Country Director, is concerned as the humanitarian situation worsens. “Of the over 360,000 displaced since November 2022, 58% are women and 6% are children under five years. In the centres, there is overcrowding even as more and more people arrive, and there continues to be a shortage of adequate resources to assist them. People who have been forced to flee not only come with barely any possessions but also arrive with trauma scars because of what they’ve faced. We are currently doing our best to reach them, but we are limited by funding and access constraints.”
Between December 2022 and February 2023, CARE in DRC, working with local humanitarian agencies, reached 12,855 internally displaced people like Adeline, Emerance, and Esther in the Nyiragongo region. Each person received food rations comprising maize, beans, cooking oil, and salt. This ration will last most homes one month before it runs out.
Images © CARE DRC/Kelvin Batumike