The Democratic Republic of Congo is a remarkable place, and I have been privileged to live and work in the Ituri region in the East of this country. This is an area which has been plagued by decades of conflict, the people living here have been exposed to multiple crises.
As one crisis ends it seems like another one begins. People don’t get to pause. Yet communities here have such resilience and strength it is really inspiring to see.
DR Congo is in the bottom ten poorest countries in the world. It is the second most food-insecure country in the world and there are 5 million people living in the country who have fled conflict. It has had to deal with devastating outbreaks of ebola and measles in recent years.
Now, it is facing the challenge of COVID-19.
Officially there are around 10,000 cases confirmed of COVID-19 and there have been over 250 deaths. In reality it’s likely that the number is much higher as the capacity for testing is quite low. Lockdown restrictions were in place for a number of months, but have now been lifted and cases are now beginning to spike again.
It has been recently ordered that everybody should wear masks in public places and that washing of hands takes place at borders and at the beginning of territories and towns.
Yet in a lot of villages people do not have access to clean water. Not only does this not help with stopping the transmission of COVID-19, but it also increases the likelihood of transmission of water borne diseases such a cholera, putting people at greater risk of health problems.
In Ituri, it is also very difficult for social distancing to happen effectively. The way of life is often based around marketplaces, large gatherings, and places of worship. It is simply very difficult for distancing to happen here.
BURNT OUT OF THEIR HOMES
DR Congo has one of the largest populations of internally displaced people on earth, and it’s one of the most under-reported conflicts in the world. There has been a consistent presence of armed groups in the North-East of the country for decades.
In recent months, intense fighting and extreme violence in Ituri has resulted in over 200,000 people fleeing their homes and villages. The UN reports that civilians have been killed, houses have been set on fire and women have been raped.
People leave the villages where they’re based, where they grew up and that they call home, and they move to bigger cities or towns where they’ll feel safe. Where they’ll feel protected and where they will have access to essential services. As they flee for safety they face huge challenges, such as the outbreaks of diseases like COVID-19 and measles.
PROVIDING LIFE-SAVING ASSISTANCE
Trócaire is responding to these many challenges in DR Congo, working with local partner organisations to provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities.
For people fleeing conflict, we’re providing basic essential items including thousands of fleece blankets, hygiene kits, mosquito nets and solar LED lamps, as well as family-sized tents.
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 we are providing hand-washing stations, toilets, showers, and access to clean running water. We are also educating people about the virus and how it spreads, through awareness raising activities. We collaborate with local radio stations to transmit messaging around the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.
We’ve also printed and published a number of brochures, posters, and information leaflets to hand out to communities in local languages to try to increase the conversation around the disease. We have had a number of trainings with health centres, with community groups, with community leaders.
These projects make a huge difference to peoples’ lives and can help transform their futures.