Kinshasa — For years, the territories of Masisi, Walikale and Rutshuru, in the southern part of North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, have been plagued with armed violence and banditry. In the past months, these armed clashes have intensified, further aggravating the dire humanitarian situation, leading to significant numbers of displaced people and worrying signs of malnutrition, sexual violence and gunshot wounds among them.
"Since the start of the year, the number of victims of sexual violence treated by MSF in Masisi has doubled compared to last year, and we have seen an increase in malnutrition cases", says Ewald Stals, MSF field coordinator in Masisi health zone. "The escalation of armed clashes has also led to more people being treated for bullet wounds, and to a surge of displaced families arriving in already overcrowded camps where access to water and sanitation is scarce. Unsurprisingly, cholera cases have been reported and we've had to rapidly set up a cholera treatment centre."
"Where are the humanitarians?"
From January to September 2019, MSF teams working in the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru and Walikale treated more than 11,220 malnourished children, 2,310 victims of sexual violence and 1,980 people with weapons injuries. Despite this critical situation, these territories - often referred to as the 'Little North' of North Kivu in the aid sector - suffer from a glaring lack of assistance from humanitarian organisations.
'Little North': a neglected crisis in North Kivu, DRC
"In recent years, several NGOs have left the 'Little North' because of insecurity, difficulties in movement around the region, and a lack of funding," says Karel Janssens, MSF Head of Mission in DRC. "Given this reduction in the number of organisations, we have been responding to an increasing number of medical, but also non-medical, needs, especially in camps. Now we're running at maximum capacity, and other emergency organisations must urgently come back and help respond to the massive humanitarian needs on the ground."
According to recent estimates, more than 687,000 people are living in camps for internally displaced people or are being hosted by local families in the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru and Walikale. For months, MSF has been advocating for the on-the-ground return of other humanitarian organisations. These efforts resulted in the arrival of a handful of organisations with temporary funding from the DRC Humanitarian Fund in mid-November.
"This support is temporary and far from enough to meet the needs," says Janssens. "Given the scale of the crisis, a much larger humanitarian response is needed in southern North Kivu, with organisations being present on the ground and benefitting from longer-term funding. The Humanitarian Response Plan 2020 for DRC must clearly take this into account in its upcoming revision."
In Masisi territory, MSF provides full-support to the General Reference Hospitals (HGR) of Masisi and Mweso. We also support all the services of seven health centres, provide partial support to 14 other health centres and assists displaced people in Bushani, Bukombo, Katale and Kalinga camps through mobile medical teams and activities in water, hygiene and sanitation.
In Walikale territory, MSF supports the General Reference Hospital of Walikale and 4 health centres in the area with a full range of activities. We support the cases management of malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections in health facilities in Kirundu, Luvungi, Ngora, Kasindi, Ndofia, Obaye and Shabunda.
In Rutshuru territory, MSF supports the Rutshuru hospital in its emergency services, operating room, surgery, intensive care and provides free medical and psychological care to victims of sexual violence and children suffering from malnutrition. In addition to hospital activities, MSF supports nine primary health facilities to guarantee access to free care for children under the age of 15, for malnourished children and for victims of sexual violence.