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Democratic Republic of Congo: Escalating conflict leaves already traumatized survivors in dire need

Woman sitting outside, next to a tent and a bag of food

Emerance unpacks her food rations outside her makeshift home in a displaced peoples camp. All photos: David Mutua/CARE

Emerance unpacks her food rations outside her makeshift home in a displaced peoples camp. All photos: David Mutua/CARE

Emerance, a 23-year-old wife, and mother of two, was tending to her field when the sound of heavy guns and artillery neared her village, forcing her to flee. Now expecting her third child, the stakes could not have been higher for her.

“My husband asked me to leave because I am pregnant,” she says. “He stayed to observe the situation. My two children went to stay with my mother at another center. When I arrived in Goma, I learned that there was a camp for displaced people in Mudja, so I came here hoping to get some assistance, since I have nothing.”

In the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, villages have been left empty, farms are overgrown, and shopping centers are desolate as conflict rages on. Since March 2022, more than 600,000 people have fled their homes and sought refuge in collective centers such as makeshift camps, school yards, and church grounds in Nyiragongo, Kanyabayonga, Sake, and Goma.

Occupants of these centers, mostly women, now tell their stories of how they fled from their homes with only the clothes on their backs.

A difficult life

Life is hard in the camp. Since arriving, Emerance has not had any contact with her children. She explains that this is just one of her many challenges: “If I had the money, I would have bought plastic bags [a tarpaulin] to cover myself and a mattress to lie on. The challenge is if I get any money, for example, 1000 Congolese Francs ($0.45), I would rather buy sweet potatoes to eat so that I do not starve.”

Woman outside, next to a building, holding a large bag of food on her head
Adeline is directed on the next steps as she picks her food rations. She was a housewife and farmer before the conflict started.

Adeline’s story is almost the same as Emerance’s.

“When the war started, I was at home with my four children,” Adeline says. “It was not easy to hear the detonations of the weapons. We were afraid, and we left. The war made us abandon everything, walking long distances and exposing us to many dangers. We all arrived here in Mudja, but we were very tired. Living in a camp is very hard because having food or sleeping properly is difficult. There are health problems, and when it rains, we are worried because this small tent does not protect us properly.”

Esther, 65, is a mother of six . She had to endure a torturous journey to flee the violence.

“I decided to leave my home earlier than most,” Esther says. “We traveled on foot for three days through the forest before we arrived at the camp. Living in a camp is like exposing yourself to death. You rarely work, and if you manage to eat, it is never enough. We live in fear, not knowing when it will end and in what condition we will find our homes and goods that we abandoned.”

Esther, a 65-year-old mother of six, rests after receiving her food rations.

One month of rations – then what?

Sidibe Kadidia, CARE DRC’s Country Director, is concerned as the humanitarian situation worsens.

“Of the over 360,000 displaced since November 2022, 58% are women and 6% are children under [age] five,” she says. “In the centers, there is overcrowding even as more and more people arrive, and there continues to be a shortage of adequate resources to serve them.

The displaced not only come with barely anything but also arrive with trauma scars because of what they’ve faced.

We are currently doing our best to reach them, but we are limited by funding and access constraints.”

Internally displaced people line up for food distribution at a camp in Mudja, DRC.

Between December 2022 and February 2023, CARE in DRC, working with local humanitarian agencies, reached 12,855 internally displaced people like Adeline, Emerance, and Esther in the Nyiragongo region. Each person received food rations consisting of maize, beans, cooking oil, and salt. This ration will last most homes one month before it runs out.

As the conflict continues, the number of people in need continues to rise daily. Adeline, Emerance, and Esther want to return to their normal lives, in their homes, tilling their farms, and running their businesses. But for now, they have no option except to hold onto this hope.

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