The human face of violence and insecurity in South Kivu

In South Kivu, like in all of the provinces affected by population movement, women and children represent more than 50 per cent of the displaced population. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

A year ago in December 2016, South Kivu, a province in eastern DR Congo twice the size of Belgium, was home to 422,000 people who have left their homes due to the insecurity. In the humanitarian jargon, they are called “internally displaced people” (IDPs). 12 months later, their number has swollen to 609, 000 people, an increase of 44 per cent. South Kivu is the third province most affected by population movement in DRC, after North Kivu which has held the unenviable top spot for more than 20 years and Tanganyika. While the year started off “calm” for this troublesome province, rising insecurity since June has created a spike in displacement, notably in the area of Fizi. Of the 176,000 people who have fled their homes this year, 103,000 were in this southern area. Returnees, trying to start over despite the volatile security context, often found their home looted. In South Kivu, like in all of the provinces affected by population movement, women and children represent more than 50 per cent of the displaced population.

close to 5 per cent of the 609,000 displaced people are 60 years old or older. Kadetua Mbabazi had to walk 25 kilometers to reach Sebele. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

Children, young adults, people with a physical handicap and elderly were forced to move. Adolescents and adults represent the majority of those displaced; close to 5 per cent of the 609,000 displaced people are 60 years old or older, like Kadetua Mbabazi who left Kikonde,walked for three days before finding refuge in Sebele (Fizi Territory), 25 kilometers away. For her, returning home with her 5 children is not in her immediate plans because of the persisting insecurity.

Echochi Yohali is a member of the village committee tasked to promote safe health and hygiene practices. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

Most people fleeing violence arrive in host families- at times perfect strangers, sometimes distant relatives- empty handed. In South Kivu, 96 per cent of the displaced people live in host families representing their first line of assistance. Families and newly arrived share food, water, and whatever room there is under the roof. It’s a remarkable example of solidarity considering that the majority of host families are themselves going through hard times. “We gave some clothes to those who arrived in our village and we try to share the little food we have with them” explained Echochi Yohali, a resident of Simbi, a village about 35 kilometers away from Baraka (Fizi Territory). As IDPs lost almost all their belongings, including their tools, they work in the fields, engaging in an informal “work for food” scheme: in exchange for their work, they receive some manioc (casava) or earn few thousands of congolese francs. Some of them also collect wood in the forest that they try to sell to earn some money.

In 2017, humanitarian actors distributed 824 tons of food, more than 25,000 farming tools and 168 tons of seeds. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

By looking at the vast green fields and the abundance of water, it is hard to imagine that malnutrition and food insecurity are prevalent in South Kivu. In DR Congo, malnutrition is tributary to the violence and insecurity that has pitted armed groups or between armed groups and the Congolese army. Families, whose own food needs and incomes are based on agriculture, are forced to abandon their fields to stay alive. In South Kivu, it is estimated that each month 1,9 million people have less than one meal per day. Diseases that attacks staple food such as cassava and bananas, aggravate the situation. In 2017, humanitarian actors distributed 824 tons of food, more than 25,000 farming tools and 168 tons of seeds.

A women returning from the fields in Simbi, Fizi Territory, South Kivu. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

While 46,500 children suffering from Moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) were treated since the beginning of the year in South Kivu and almost 16,000 received Plumpy Nut, an enriched dietary supplement and other therapeutic food assistance, it is estimated that every month in 2017, 5,000 children under the age of 5 suffering from malnutrition still didn’t receive proper treatment. Fizi Territory has the highest rate moderate acute malnutrition, followed by Mwenga and Uvira Territory.

Pacifique Bugere, in charge of the health center in Simbi, Fizi Territory, South Kivu. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

South Kivu is endemic to cholera, a disease that is linked to consuming unsafe water or food and unhygienic sanitary conditions. In South Kivu 42% of the population don’t have access to drinkable water and 77% do not have hygienic toilets so year in and year out, thousands of cases are recorded, and 2017 is no different. Up until early December, more than 12,500 cases were reported since January 2017, mainly in Minova, Fizi and Uvira. Among the response, some 3,6 million liters of water were distributed through water trucking and 260 chlorination points installed. However humanitarian assistance will not rid the country of the water-borne disease, sustained investment in providing clean water, improving sanitation and hygiene represent the most important long-term solutions for millions of Congolese.

Women taking care of their children at Kananda health center, Fizi Territory, South Kivu. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

Besides cholera, measles, malaria, acute respiratory infection and diarrhea are the most common diseases in South Kivu. The Territory of Shabunda continuously reports high number of measles cases. In 2017, over 1,000 cases were notified in Lulingu area, the second highest number after Fizi (2,526). Over 190,000 children were vaccinated against measles during this year. But again population movements disturb vaccination schedule. Poverty also remains a major hurdle in accessing medical and health services.

An average of 15,500 children were estimated to have missed out on school every month in 2017 due to violence. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

Protection incidents also increased in 2017 in South Kivu. Over 49,000 were documented between January and October 2017. It’s more than during the entire year of 2016 (39 447). In 2017, 678 victims of rape received an adequate treatment, but Post-exposure preventive (PEP) kits are still missing in lots of health centers.

An average of 15,500 children were estimated to have missed out on school every month in 2017 due to violence. The “lucky ones” are able to return to their home areas and resume classes; thousands simply drop out, never return and, education experts believe, turn out to grow the ranks of armed groups and militia in the province. On the other hand, thousands of children don’t go to school because families don’t have money to pay for fees, contrary to free education policy adopted the Government. In 2017, humanitarian actors were able to send more than 76,500 children back to school.

People waiting for food and non-food items in Kaseke, Fizi Territory, South Kivu. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

Close to 60 humanitarian actors were operational in South Kivu at the end of November with 83 ongoing projects targeting 236,000 people. In October humanitarian actors received USD 6 million dollars from the Humanitarian Fund to assist around 200,000 people in Shabunda and Fizi territories, as well as in neighboring Kabambare (Maniema province). Violence and insecurity don’t only affect civilians. Humanitarians also face security challenges. About 45 security incidents involving humanitarians were recorded between July and October in South Kivu. Accessing communities remains also a considerable challenge as 65 percent of South Kivu is inaccessible by road; during the rainy season access becomes worse. To help improve this situation, part of the 6 million allocated will go towards rehabilitating transport infrastructures in Fizi and Shabunda.

Palm oil was part of the food distributed in Kaseke, Fizi Territory, South Kivu. Credit : OCHA/A.Rime

However, as needs continue to spread, lack of fundings forced humanitarian to stop 18 of their projects in South Kivu. With only a few days to go before the end of the year, 2017 is on course to be the year with the lowest funding level. Additional funding is required to scale up to meet new needs while continuing to deliver assistance where needs already exists.