OCTOBER 14, 2009: No End in Sight for DRC

No End in Sight

SOURCE: Medair

D.R. Congo - Almost one year has passed since the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) began attacking villages in northeast D.R. Congo, and the crisis shows no signs of ending, with more than 250,000 people currently displaced from their homes.

"The LRA rebels attacked our village on the 17th of September," says 18-year-old Marie Dawilegu. "I remember that the children ran frightened out of the schools. Everybody started running, as we all feared the cruelty of the LRA."

So begins the story of Marie Dawilegu, who has become one of D.R. Congo's internally displaced persons, or IDPs. It is a story we have sadly heard echoed time and again this past year.

"I had to flee immediately, without anything but the clothes that I was wearing," Marie continues. "I was all by myself and had to walk two complete days through the dense forest before I arrived in the town of Dungu. Thank God, my husband was also here, and we were both still alive. But we heard that the LRA looted the market and the houses, and that many villagers were kidnapped."

In just the first five days of LRA attacks, 20 villages were looted, 141 people killed, and 234 children were kidnapped. Approximately 10,000 people arrived in Dungu town alone, which required a quick humanitarian intervention. As one of the longest serving international NGOs in the region, Medair was able to provide immediate, free medical assistance to the displaced, particularly in Dungu.

"The first few months were especially tense, with LRA attacks on Dungu necessitating a brief evacuation from the area," said Marian Wetshay-van der Snoek, Medair's Medical Advisor in D.R. Congo. "However, Medair has maintained consistent support for the most vulnerable throughout the year, expanding our medical coverage to Doruma, Niangara, and Gombari, plus three health zones in the Bas Uélé district, and extending free health care to all people (IDP and host populations) in the most affected areas."

Marie and her husband were among those fortunate enough to be taken in by a host family in Dungu, but they found it very difficult to live without any possessions or money. Most importantly, they faced an urgent concern.

"When I fled Dungu, I was already pregnant with our first child," says Marie. "But after fleeing, I had nothing to pay for the birth of our baby. I am very happy that Medair offers free treatment to us. They paid for the costs of giving birth in one of the health centres, and we are now the proud parents of a little boy."

Health Care Provision in a Difficult Year

The LRA rebels have continued their vicious attacks on innocent civilians over the past year, displacing more than 250,000 people and killing more than 1,200 since the beginning of the year. Countless atrocities have taken place, many too horrible to recount. Our staff have comforted parents whose children were kidnapped before their eyes. We have listened to escaped children recount their terrible ordeals.

Throughout this difficult year, Medair has been a consistent provider of medical treatment, free medicines, and emergency responses in the event of disease outbreaks. Our main goal has been to make health care accessible to the most vulnerable people in the region.

"Thanks to your presence among us during the rebel slaughters, we get free medicines that allow us to be healthy despite the economic and social crisis," writes Pastor Dadutilani-Pascal, displaced in Doruma. "We went through difficult times with diseases such as diarrhoea, chicken pox, malaria, fever, and intestinal worms. We hope that these donations of medicine might continue, and that they reach other camps for displaced people outside Doruma."

Medair has supported as many as 51 health centres in six different health zones over the year, providing vital aid to more than 150,000 people. Bringing this kind of aid to so many locations in D.R. Congo has required a major commitment from our dedicated Congolese health supervisors. These supervisors travel great distances on almost non-existent roads, and face the constant risk of insecurity.

"I'm most concerned when we send our supervisors on the road with motorbikes, or when nurses come from the health centers to look for medicines," says Marie Petry, Medair's Health Manager in Dungu. "A nurse from a health centre 20 kilometers north of Doruma has already been arrested three times by the LRA. They stole everything and let him go. Sometimes, the local medical staff members take great risks to do their work."

A Fragile Situation

People in Dungu town are attempting to adapt and develop a daily routine, but they live in a precarious situation. Attacks continue only a few kilometres outside of town. With such pervasive insecurity, people who choose to cultivate fields away from towns face a great risk of being killed. As a result, the food situation grows increasingly critical, particularly in Doruma, where there are fears of severe malnutrition in the days ahead.

"At the moment, it is still very insecure for the population to return to their villages," says Susanne Krauss, Medair Base Manager. "As people cannot return, one result is that their fields are not harvested, which directly leads to both food and economic crisis for the population."...

For the full story, please see: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/HHVU-7WTHZ6?OpenDocument