Communities in the North-East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are facing severe malnutrition, extreme violence, displacement, and an outbreak of Ebola. Each of these issues constitutes a massive challenge and leaves the people of the DRC extremely vulnerable. The North Kivu and Ituri provinces are living through the worst recorded DRC outbreak of Ebola, but also report extremely brutality in the Ituri conflict in the North-East. The World Food Progamme (WFP) is set to triple its aid provisions, but if the situation is not addressed, thousands could lose their lives to disease and malnutrition, or be permanently displaced.
Due to mass displacement and lack of incomplete census information, accurate data on the situation is unavailable. However, the WFP has described the current situation in DRC as the world’s second largest hunger crisis, after Yemen, and according to UNHCR, the violence in the North-East has led to the mass displacement of about 300, 000. The UN food agency has estimated a requisite $155 million to assist sufferers of malnutrition and Ebola in the country. Meanwhile, the UN has confirmed 1000 dead during the current Ebola outbreak in the DRC. Many Congolese citizens doubt the risk of infection, claiming that the disease is a fabrication created for economic gain or destabilization. Médecins Sans Frontières has warned that disinformation about the disease may only increase, and with many medical outposts being attacked, it remains difficult for doctors to respond to the outbreak.
Displacement, loss, and ethnic violence cause serious trauma. Many orphaned children will be left to deal with the trauma of witnessing loss and violence first hand, but without counselling and institutional support for these victims, it is unlikely that they will be adequately supported. Younger victims will miss schooling, with understaffed schools unable to provide additional support. Though UN organizations, volunteers and medical workers have done incredible work, more support for Ugandan refugee centres, and clean food and water supplies will go far to reduce susceptibility to disease and ensure the immediate futures of these victims. Going forward, more must be done by the DRC government. With the new President Tshisekedi describing the conflict as an ‘attempted genocide’ we can only hope that he will follow through on his words and encourage the resolution of this ongoing conflict, so the healing process can begin.
The Hema and Lendu communities have been involved in a conflict for decades. Right now, reporters and witnesses in the region are describing a scorched-earth policy, with brutal attacks on civilians, looting, followed by the burning down of villages, presumably to prevent the survivors from going home. This time, most of the victims are said to be of the Hema community, some from Alur. The attackers are mainly reported as Lendu. Close to 8000 refugees have flooded into Uganda, with UNHCR reporting that Ugandan reception facilities are “overwhelmed.”
The impact on education and health are major issues, especially in refugee camps. The impact on societal wellbeing and literacy will be far-reaching. In addition to these issues, should the mass-movement of populations continue to make containing the Ebola epidemic difficult, its potential spread into Uganda could cause a much wider outbreak. The toxic combination of food scarcity, disease and violence has left the citizens of DRC, and in particular the Ituri and Kivu provinces, extremely vulnerable.