The Congolese are no strangers to conflict. In many ways still recovering from a brutal war that killed some five million people between 1994 and 2003, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains plagued by ongoing violence. In the northeast corner of the country, International Medical Corps recently mobilized an emergency response to provide vital health services in Ituri, where flares in tribal fighting have displaced more than 300,000 people.
International Medical Corps is currently working in Bunia, a city in the province of Ituri that is hosting more than 36,000 displaced Congolese and has been largely overlooked in the crisis. We are providing care in three health centers, in an effort to support the DRC’s existing healthcare system. According to Marie de la Roche, team leader of International Medical Corps’ emergency response in Ituri, the biggest health concerns are acute watery diarrhea, malaria and acute respiratory infections. We are transferring critical patients to the hospital, monitoring them and paying for the cost of their hospital stay. As our doctors have seen many pregnant women having complications during birth and needing cesareans, we also recently brought on a midwife for the largest health center.
Marie describes the situation in Bunia as “an overall muddy, makeshift situation.” Unlike a more formalized camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) or refugees, many people in Bunia lack even tarps for protection from the rain. They have been taking whatever they can find –wood, cloth, and items available in the area near the sites—to make their own shelters. Meanwhile, heavy rains are making for a “very unfortunate situation” in terms of water, sanitation and hygiene.
Nonetheless, Marie sees many of what she calls “the bright moments.” IDPs have set up their own markets, a makeshift barbershop, church services and more. They are approaching the situation proactively, trying to make things better and life as good as it can be. “Communities like this that have seen a lot of conflict over the years are much faster to return to normal life than areas where conflict is an abnormality,” says Marie. “The IDPs in Ituri are resourceful at managing the challenges they face.”
Marie also credits the international community’s response in Ituri. She reports a lot of positive coordination and communication among humanitarian aid organizations in the region, with people working collaboratively to ensure full coverage of services needed as the situation has shifted constantly. “Flexibility on everyone’s part has been key to ensuring that the situation has not become worse,” says Marie. “People are willing to think outside the box and go to any length necessary to be helpful.”
Looking forward, there are opportunities for the humanitarian community to expand services within Ituri province. Though International Medical Corps’ project will finish at the end of September, we have been partnering with local NGOs to take over services. By partnering with local aid organizations, we create more sustainable long-term support. After all, in a place like the DRC, where conflict and displacement is a way of life for many, the road to recovery can be long—but we take it.
International Medical Corps in DRC
International Medical Corps has been tirelessly working in DRC since 1999 to provide healthcare and other critical services and supplies to those in need in North Kivu and Tanganyika, two provinces plagued by ongoing conflict for the last 20 years. We have recently expanded our work into Ituri Province, where more than 300,000 people have been forced from their homes as entire villages are overrun by violence. In response to several outbreaks of Ebola virus, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team is on the ground in affected areas, working in support of the DRC Ministry of Health to mobilize a multi-disciplinary response to help save lives and contain the virus.