Seven people killed and 255 houses burnt down in rebel attacks in North Kivu, eastern Congo. The news to come from Caritas Congo yesterday was bleak, like it has been for months.
First there were stories of conflict and displacements, then the stories of child soldiers and rapes. Even a volcano may now erupt near Goma in North Kivu, threatening once again the population. All this on top of a war which began in the 1990s in which an estimated five million people died.
“The people of Goma have suffered a lot – especially in the years since 1993, when there have been inter-ethnic and political wars,” says Abbé Oswald Musoni, director of Caritas Goma.
Fierce fighting between government forces and rebel groups flared up in August 2008. Over 250,000 people fled their homes in just a few months – adding to the two million people displaced since the previous year.
Now, even though the situation is relatively calmer in some areas, says Abbé Musoni, places such as around Rutshuru and Nyiragongo are still suffering from fighting and insecurity.
Enormous hardships are inflicted on the people of eastern Congo by the unrest. Many live in camps and just have plastic sheeting and a few covers to protect them from the biting cold in the mountainous area of North Kivu.
“Some people have spent six months sleeping on the floor in the rain with just plastic sheeting for protection,” says Abbé Musoni. “They live in really inhuman conditions and they are exposed to many diseases because of the precariousness in which they spend their days and nights.”
Caritas has been distributing food, clothes, household items and toiletries and is giving psychological support to people uprooted by the violence. It offers support and training for women who have been raped and has schemes to reintegrate child soldiers into society.
“Caritas in Goma has been helping – thanks to the solidarity of the Caritas network and other organisations. We enable people not to lose hope, but they still live in an emergency situation,” says Abbé Musoni.
The road to peace in the region is a long one, but recent signs of calm have encouraged people to return home. Who knows how they will cope after so many months away? Months in which the psychological burden has been heavy and the physical difficulties ever present.
“We are helping people settle back into their homes and lives. We help them set up agricultural projects so they will have enough food. The economy is in tatters and many people have lost all their money, so we also help boost their buying power,” explains Abbé Musoni.
The role of Caritas Goma in ensuring the people of Kivu can live in safety doesn’t end with the provision of aid. Caritas also works with the bishops, who have often spoken out about the humanitarian crisis in eastern Congo, to help bring about peace.
“We work with the bishops to urge the authorities to stop the war so dialogue can begin,” says Abbé Musoni. “I believe that we will soon see the road open to a new climate in which the people of Congo will be able to live together and which will allow a process of reconciliation to begin.”