Floods In DRC: A Perfect Storm In Saké, North Kivu

On October 2nd, the town of Saké, North Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was severely damaged by flooding. Heavy rainfall caused the Mutahyo river to burst its banks at Saké, approximately 25km west of the provincial capital Goma. At least 15 people have died and more are missing. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that 550 households have been displaced after their homes were destroyed by the rain. Health centres and schools were also destroyed, as was the bridge connecting the town to the rest of the Masisi region.

This environmental crisis is exacerbated by multiple ongoing crises which affect the entire province of North Kivu. The east of the country has suffered from protracted conflict since 1996 between insurgent militias, government forces, and militias supporting the government. Saké itself was the centre of intense fighting in 2006, 2007 and 2012. The town was shelled; houses, schools and hospitals were looted. There are still multiple armed groups in the surrounding area, who pose a constant threat to the town’s security. The region is also struggling to manage three ongoing epidemics: Ebola, cholera, and measles, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, climate change is predicted to increase incidences of heavy rainfall and flooding in the area.

The Congolese government has promised quick support for the victims of flooding. The Minister for Humanitarian Action, Steve Mbikaye, pledged to do everything in his power to reconstruct the town’s bridge and support the victims of the disaster. Reconstruction of the bridge is an urgent priority as, without it, the town is largely cut off from food supplies and humanitarian aid.

President Félix Tshisekedi also visited the town in solidarity with the victims. He took the opportunity to reach out to armed groups, stating in his speech that «le president de la Republique Démocratique du Congo leur tend la main… aujourd’hui nous sommes encore disposé à dialoguer avec eux. » [the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is extending a hand to them… today, we are ready to talk with them]. He has promised to return to Goma in the coming weeks to follow-up on the implementation of a new programme of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR).

The situation in North Kivu is extremely complex, making it difficult to identify the many contributing factors of current humanitarian crises. However, it is fair to assume that the episodes of intense fighting in Saké—and the ongoing conflict across the province—has weakened the town’s infrastructure, exacerbating the destructive impact of flooding. The renewed attention brought to a neglected troublesome corner of the DRC by a tragic event could prove fruitful for renewed disarmament, but the track record of DDR in general suggests that this is, unfortunately, unlikely. What is more likely is that flooding will be yet another aspect of the perfect storm of crises for the people of Saké.

Sarah McArthur