According to the United Nations, only 18 per cent of people who fled their homes in North Kivu province over the last six months are living in dedicated camps or shelters, while the remaining 82 per cent live with host families. This is true in Oicha, a rural community of 360,000 inhabitants located north of the city of Beni.
For a decade, people in North Kivu have been caught in the crossfire between local armed groups, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and joint Congolese–Ugandan military operations against the ADF. An estimated 165,000 people have fled to Oicha. Designated shelters, originally intended to house 5,700 people, are currently overflowing with some 7,200 residents, according to Oicha’s displaced persons committee. The rest depend on the local community for shelter, food and water.
Melde Kavira Shaonere, a 55-year-old woman who has been in Oicha for a year, described her gruelling experience: “I fled with my grandchildren and other children who had lost their parents during the fighting. There are 20 of us living in a house that I rent for 24,000 Congolese francs (10 US dollars) a month. I don’t have a job. I’ve already been asked to move out because I have no money. Food, water and health care are all hard to come by. We’re suffering terribly.”
In late June 2023, the ICRC launched two well-drilling projects to improve access to drinking water. Several water taps will supply water to designated shelters and the densely populated neighbourhoods where the majority of displaced families live. As of August 2023, the ICRC is also supporting the Mbimbi health centre and Oicha’s general hospital – where urgent cases are referred from the health centre – thus providing access to free care for nearly 24,000 people.
When the poor help the poor
The situation is similar in Rutshuru and Masisi territories to the south, two agricultural areas that feed the city of Goma. Fighting between the armed branch of the March 23 Movement (M23) and other armed groups displaced at least 78,000 people in June and July of 2023. In Nyabiondo alone, more than 7,800 people** have joined the 2,000 who arrived in February. The local community, themselves suffering from the fighting and a lack of resources, have been forced to share what little they have.
“I took in seven displaced families with no blood relation to me. When they first arrived, I gave them bananas to eat. But after three days, I had to tell them to fend for themselves,” said Kengo Lukoo Bandu, a farmer in his 40s and a father of nine in Nyabiondo.
“The economic situation has changed for our community. What little food we had is no longer enough. Prices have also gone up at the market. Before, my family would go through ten cups of rice a day. Now we only have half that.”
Tens of thousands of people in North Kivu – both the displaced and the host community – are in urgent need of help. Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations face a lack of financing and restricted access to these communities. Anne-Sylvie Linder, head of the ICRC subdelegation in Goma, urged donors to continue supporting the various humanitarian groups that are active in the region.
“We have to think beyond emergency response to how we can finance and implement long-lasting solutions. The parties to the conflicts in North Kivu must also fulfil their obligations under international law. Humanitarian organizations must have unconditional access to civilian communities in need. The current situation is dire, and humanitarian aid has to reach the thousands of families in remote areas who desperately need it.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).