Tens of thousands of people have sought safety in informal camps at Kanyaruchinya and the surrounding areas, ten kilometres north of Goma. They have fled the renewed fighting between the March 23 movement (M23) and the Congolese army in the region of Rutshuru. An urgent response from humanitarian actors is required to meet the huge needs of these people.
Situated on the road between Goma and Rutshuru, Kanyaruchinya was already hosting thousands of people displaced by previous rounds of fighting in the last few months and people affected by the May 2021 volcanic eruption. Their living conditions were already extremely precarious, and the arrival of a new wave of displaced people has significantly increased the needs of those living there.
“In just a few days we have seen thousands of people quickly build shelters of eucalyptus branches and leaves collected in the surrounding forest, all whilst it is raining,” explained Dr Maria Mashako, medical coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “The families have only brought the bare necessities with them as they fled. They lack everything: healthcare, shelter, food, water, toilets. These vital needs need to be met urgently in order to limit the negative impacts on these people’s health.”
Trading anxiety for distress
According to the provincial authorities, as of November 3, at least 74,000 people need aid just outside of Goma following these latest massive displacements. It remains very difficult to know exactly how many people have arrived in the last days, as the arrivals have been so numerous and sudden. “Some sites where we go regularly were empty only two weeks ago and now are full to bursting. Judging by what we can see the population of Kanyaruchinya seems to have tripled in the space of a weekend,” described Dr Mashako. The newly arrived families have settled wherever they can, including in schools, leading to a makeshift cohabitation between students and the displaced.
“We walked for more than 15 hours to get to Kanyaruchinya. Now we are here with our neighbours behind the school in Mugara, without anything,” Jean-Claude said. He fled the fighting in the region of Rugari. His new neighbour, Justin, who also recently arrived with his family from Kibumba, sadly summed up the situation: “we fled anxiety and found here distress.”
At the Kanyaruchinya health centre, which is supported by MSF, the number of consultations has increased dramatically from on average 80 per day in October to 250 now. To respond to these increasing medical needs MSF is going to strengthen its support to the centre’s medical team to allow them to enlarge their capacities and continue to receive patients 24 hours a day.
MSF has been supporting the centre since July to enable the provision of free and quality healthcare to displaced people, people displaced by the volcanic eruption, and all the inhabitants of the area. Respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and skin infections are the illnesses most commonly treated by the team. Since July, over 10,000 consultations have been undertaken at the health centre, more than two thirds of which have been for displaced people.
Faced with the serious lack of humanitarian actors present in the last few months, MSF has also been providing water for the displaced people at numerous sites in the health areas of Munigi and Kanyaruchinya.
“The crowded camps and the poor hygienic conditions within them mean that water-borne diseases, like cholera, are likely to spread, as well as other epidemic illnesses. Since the weekend of October 29-30, we have doubled our distributions of drinking water. We are now delivering 200,000 litres of water per day across more than ten sites. Despite that, our action is limited when compared to the scale of the needs,” said Dr Mashako.
Getting people shelter as quickly as possible
The intensifying rains in the last few weeks have accentuated the precarious living conditions for the displaced people, exposing them to illnesses such as respiratory infections and malaria. To allow them to access decent shelter is therefore a priority. The lack of food is also worrying: without access to their fields and without a source of income the majority of families are dependent on humanitarian aid to eat.
In addition, displaced people—particularly women—face the risk of violence. “Since the beginning of our work in Kanyaruchinya we have treated nearly 120 people who have been victims of sexual violence, more than 80% of whom have been displaced people. The majority of survivors come to the centre within 72 hours and tell us that they were attacked on the road while looking for food and wood to burn for heat,” Dr Mashako explains. “At this moment it is crucial that the promises other humanitarian actors have made turn into concrete interventions, including actors in the field of protection, and that they come to help these people in need.”
In addition to the area of Nyiragongo, MSF teams are also present in Rutshuru, Binza, Kibirzi, and Bambo, in Rutshuru territory, where they continue to offer vital medical assistance to the host population while also evaluating how best to respond to the needs of newly displaced people.
The intermittent clashes between the Congolese army and the M23 since the end of March 2022 had already pushed at least 186 000 people to flee their homes. Now tens of thousands more people have come to be added to that figure.