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Tuesday, April 03, 2018
Devastation in DRC
The vast central African country of Democratic Republic of Congo has been hit by waves of violence, rebellions, protests and political turmoil in recent months, leading to worries about a new civil war like that which killed five million people between 1997 and 2003.
Across the country the security situation has deteriorated markedly as government authority has collapsed, emboldening rival militia groups who hold sway over large areas of territory, often competing for the DRC’s rich resources. The president, Joseph Kabila, is desperately clinging to power as various groups and individuals use violence to gain cash, territory and support before possible elections later this year.
he humanitarian situation is dire. More than 13 million Congolese need humanitarian aid, twice as many as last year, and 7.7 million face severe food insecurity, up 30% from a year ago, the United Nations said in March. Many humanitarian officials complain that global attention has been diverted to more heavily reported crises in the Middle East. More than 4.5 million people are displaced, the highest number in the DRC for more than 20 years, latest figures show. There are outbreaks of cholera. The fighting is getting worse.
In recent weeks, thousands of army soldiers attacked villages across the province of North Kivu, where rebel groups are based. Around the town of Beni, DRC’s army is fighting an Islamist-inspired militia blamed for killing 14 UN peacekeepersin November, the worst loss of life in a single incident for the organisation for 25 years. Dozens have died in frequent ambushes and skirmishes. Though Goma, the biggest city in the east, remains calm, militias have clashed with security forces on its outskirts. Elsewhere in the east, ethnic tensions have led to massacres. Around the town of Bunia, hundreds have died. There have been fierce battles west of the town of Masisi, as government troops attacked the base of a powerful local warlord known as General Delta.
One of the few international NGOs still working in the area is Médecins Sans Frontières. It supports, among other projects, a hospital with more than 300 beds at Masisi, where 17,000 people received care in 2017, a health centre in Nyabiondo, a network of mobile clinics and a fleet of ambulances. The work is increasingly dangerous. In the last two months, MSF personnel and vehicles have been attacked five times. Logistics pose enormous challenges too. It can take an entire day to drive the 60km from Goma to Masisi on muddy dirt tracks. There are no paved roads and many remote communities can only be reached by motorbike, some only after days walking on forest tracks. Patients regularly die when roads are cut by landslides, torrential rains or fighting.
The United Nations mission in the DRC is the largest and most expensive peacekeeping effort, but five UN bases near Masisi were shut last year, following a US-led push to cut costs.
“There is a lack of political will to crack down on the militia ... The only way this regime can keep power is to maintain a situation which allows them to keep pillaging. Each armed group can be tied to an official in Kinshasa, either in government or in the army,” said Fidel Bafilenda, an analyst in Goma.
DRC observers are particularly fearful of the growing tension between ethnic communities. Despite fertile soil and plentiful water, there is fierce competition for land in the heavily populated green hills above Lake Kivu, as well as for lucrative mines where gold, coltan and other key commodities prized in the developed world are scratched from the ground by artisanal miners.