to relatively secure areas, where they find crowding, food scarcity, hunger and malnutrition.
KIRUMBA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — As fighting between the Mai Mai Mazembe militia and rangers at Virunga National Park intensified in December, Solange Kavugho and her three children, fearing for their lives, were forced to flee.
She says they left many things behind – friends, family and food.
Kavugho, 35, lived in Kamandi-Lac, a locality near the shores of Lake Edward, 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of the rural town of Kirumba. In her village, she grew crops and raised livestock. She says her family’s life was humble, but her children’s bellies were full.
Now, in Kirumba, a deeper fear is setting in, she says.
Her children, ages 4, 7 and 10, barely escaped the machetes, but now they face a more tortured path to death – starvation.
“We live a life of suffering. We used to eat fish and vegetables. Now, we live in a state of utter destitution. My children are starving,” Kavugho says.
The children spend their days hovering around Kirumba’s slaughterhouse, a popular place where children who do not have enough to eat scrounge for scrap pieces of meat or blood, to take home to cook.
These days Kirumba is full of new residents. Forced to flee their homes and abandon their land, people are crammed into this rural town, leading to devastating food shortages. Meanwhile, locals say rebel groups are feasting on the crops left behind.
Insecurity is again rampant in most of DRC’s southern Lubero Territory, causing the massive displacement of people leaving their livestock and fertile fields in favor of relatively-secure neighboring towns. Consequences of the displacement are many. Children are out of school, unemployment is high and food shortages are causing a significant rise in malnutrition and starvation.
Joseph Mumbere Museya, an agricultural engineer in Kirumba, says the worst consequence of conflict-induced displacement is hunger.
“When people are forced from their homes, farming activities remain paralyzed. And 80 percent of Congolese rely on agriculture for their livelihood. As a result, nearly all the households are starving,” Museya says.
Charlotte Sivunavirwa Katungu, a nutritionist at Kasando Health Center in Kirumba, says the local food shortage is leading to malnutrition. When the body receives inadequate nutrients, she says, many symptoms begin to appear, like diarrhea and kwashiorkor, the protein deficiency that causes delayed growth and distended bellies in children.
As more people leave their farms, rebel groups are erecting road blocks to prevent people from returning to their fields. Farmers say rebels are tilling their lands, feeding themselves while the rightful owners starve.
According to Katungu, the health center is seeing an increasing number of malnourished children who come to the center in search of food supplements, like Plumpy’Sup and Plumpy’Nut, produced by the French company Nutriset. The packages, distributed to children and adults experiencing malnutrition, contain peanut paste, powdered milk, sugar, vitamins and minerals.
While no organization is yet tallying the new numbers of internally displaced people in Kirumba, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in 2016 that 156,000 people were displaced by the Lubero-Rutshuru crisis. That number has likely increased, as local residents report increased fighting between December 2016 and March 2017.
READ MORE Merveille is a Senior Reporter with Global press in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She joined Global Press in 2014. Today, Merveille is the only journalist living and working in the Lubero Territory, a region of eastern DRC that is overrun by rebel groups, poverty and sexual violence. Her coverage of widows in DRC was voted among the Best of 2015. Her work has been featured on Reuters, Big News Network, UNDP and more than a dozen local media outlets.Merveille Kavira Luneghe, Senior Reporter