In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the humanitarian crisis has reached dramatic proportions in 2023, with massive levels of violence and displacement. In North Kivu, armed clashes linked to the resurgence of the M23 armed group have forced up to 1 million people to flee their homes. Often overshadowed, the provinces of Ituri and South Kivu are similarly wracked by relentless violence, causing grave repercussions for many people. While the humanitarian situation is catastrophic, aid remains desperately limited, and people’s needs continue to be overwhelmingly unmet.
In a grim milestone, the UN announced in late October that the DRC has nearly 7 million internally displaced people, with around 5 million concentrated in the eastern part of the country – a record.
In North Kivu, violence between armed groups – the M23 prominent among them – triggered constant and massive population movements across Rutshuru, Nyiragongo, and Masisi territories. The escalation of the conflict since October this year has only further increased the humanitarian disaster.
"The current situation in the province is just catastrophic" says Germain Lubango Kabemba, MSF representative in Goma. "Wherever you look now, the urgency to act is there.”
Meanwhile, violence in North Kivu triggered several waves of displacement of people into South Kivu, notably around Minova and the surrounding villages, where the already fragile hygiene conditions led to an increase in cases of cholera. At the same time the closure of health facilities in North Kivu due to the insecurity also forced people who needed ongoing healthcare south.
In Ituri, one third of the population is now displaced as a result of years of conflict. People who are living in such prolonged displacement are hit hard, both mentally and physically.
“Ituri is a region where, over the past 30 years, we have seen a major disinvestment in even the most basic medical services and infrastructures, which makes access to any medical services already very problematic without conflict on top," says Alira Halidou, MSF head of mission in Ituri.
Today, more than ever before, displaced communities are in dire need of concrete and clear action from international humanitarian organisations in the face of this growing emergency.Alira Halidou, MSF head of mission in Ituri.
A wake-up call
Every day MSF’s teams witness the impact of the dire living conditions for people who have been displaced by the violence. They live in makeshift shelters without essentials like adequate food, safe drinking water or basic sanitation. They have become extremely vulnerable to illness and infectious diseases such as cholera and measles. Women are particularly exposed to incidents of sexual violence, which we have seen in extremely high numbers.
“The humanitarian needs are everywhere and are massive, but as a medical organisation we can only respond to the most pressing and urgent ones,” says Alira Halidou. “Today, more than ever before, displaced communities are in dire need of concrete and clear action from international humanitarian organisations in the face of this growing emergency. We hear, and are confronted with, the communities’ growing pleas for more aid to meet their most basic needs. While the lack of humanitarian presence in many areas of eastern DRC is unfortunately nothing new, the soaring level of needs we see now should act as a wake-up call.”
Despite MSF’s repeated calls for a mobilisation of aid, progress remains insufficient. The crisis gripping the DRC demands an urgent and united international response. It's time to spotlight the people and communities who need support most and ensure that their voices, including those of our patients, are heard and acknowledged.
People behind the crisis
Agrippine in Rutshuru, North Kivu
Agrippine, a 53-year-old displaced widow, in a community shelter at the informal IDP site of Rugabo Stadium in Rutshuru Centre. She fled their village with six of her children because of clashes between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group in early 2023. She has no news of her other four children.
“I came on foot to Rutshuru with one of my children, and five others joined us afterwards. The others must be in Uganda today. I have no news since we fled”, she says. “I have no family here in Rutshuru. I ask in the neighborhoods for food for my children. I have never received any food distribution, neither the basins nor the pots, nothing. When it rains, the water floods the ground in the shelters and we spend the night in the water.”
Naomi Furana at Kanyaruchinya IDP site, North Kivu
Naomi Furana, 20, and her son Alexis at the Kanyaruchinya health centre. Naomi has been living in Kanyaruchinya for a month with her two children and husband. The family fled the fighting around Kibumba. Her 21-month-old son Alexis has been vomiting and having diarrhoea for three days. Naomi is now suffering from the same symptoms.
Gilbert Izabayo in Bulengo IDP camp, North Kivu
Gilbert Izabayo, 30, fled the area of Mweso due to armed violence and now lives in the Bulengo IDP camp. After hearing on the radio that many people were suffering from cholera in the camp, Gilbert wanted to do his part for other displaced people. He now works with MSF as a hygienist.
"I do this to help others protect themselves from cholera so that it doesn't spread in the camp and that we don't get sick while we are already living in such difficult conditions.
Denise in Drodro, Ituri
Denise, 28, awaits for a prenatal consultation at the Blukwa’Mbi health center. She is 7 months pregnant and had to flee her village with her husband and two children due to the renewed intensity of insecurity in the health zone of Drodro early 2023. The family erected a modest hut to provide shelter.
Denise admits that she doesn't eat every day. The last distribution of aid occurred in November 2022, leaving many without sufficient food and basic necessities. Even access to clean water remains a persistent challenge in their makeshift home.
Umyerto Jencong Abemol in Angumu, Ituri
Umyerto Jencong Abemol is the representative of the displaced people in Chawa site.
He fled from Djugu territory, the area most affected by conflict. He pleaded with our team to echo the many needs of the people displaced.
"We need even the most basic things, such as a plastic sheeting for the roof of shelters, food, cooking utensils and medical care for adults. We are just trying to survive."
Sifa in Katale IDP site, Masisi territory, North Kivu
Sifa holds her daughter Tamuriza in her arms, sitting in their tent made of wood and tarpaulin sheets in the displacement site of Katale, in the territory of Masisi. After fleeing her village, Sifa has been living here for the past four months. Two months ago, Sifa lost one of her daughters because of malnutrition. Today, three other of her children are also suffering from malnutrition.