In August, inter-communal violence broke out in Kwamouth Territory, an area half a day’s boat ride north of the capital, Kinshasa; For the past month, MSF has been the only aid organization on site, providing medical care and assistance to people displaced from their homes; With the fighting moving east, MSF is also deploying emergency teams near the town of Bandundu, where violence remains a concern.
In recent weeks, an upsurge in intercommunal violence in the Kwamouth Territory has resulted in people being hunted down and killed, houses and villages burned to the ground, roadblocks set up to intercept perceived enemies, and thousands fleeing their homes to the forest.
or cross the Kwa River to take refuge in makeshift sites in Bolobo territory.
“When we arrived in the area, we found thousands of people living in deplorable conditions, homeless, without access to clean water or sanitation,” says Dr. Dieya Papy, a medical officer with the MSF emergency team.
“The area has a high prevalence of malaria and people’s living conditions clearly put them at risk of getting sick.
We had to act quickly.”
Responding to immediate needs The MSF emergency team arrived in Kwamouth on 24 August to respond to people’s most pressing needs, while calling on other aid organizations to join the response In a context of high tension, the small team also did their best to help people who had fled further afield.
“Our priority was to transport the seriously injured to Kinshasa and improve living conditions in the sites as best we could, installing latrines and water points and distributing essentials like mosquito nets, soap and tablets to disinfect the water,” says Dr. Papy. “People’s access to healthcare was extremely limited in the area, so we made donations to local health centers and opened mobile clinics at the sites for displaced people in Simbambili and Sokoa.”
During the last three weeks, MSF staff, assisted by two nurses from the Ministry of Health, have provided more than 750 medical consultations through mobile clinics, mainly for malaria and respiratory infections.
They have also transported seriously injured people to hospitals in Kinshasa by boat and by road.
Patients traumatized by violence In addition to people’s immediate medical needs, violent events have also left many people psychologically traumatized.
“When I heard the shots, I ran away with my sister to our aunt’s house,” says 11-year-old Astrid.
[not her real name].
“But when we got there, the men threatened us with their weapons.
They wanted us to show them the houses inhabited by people from the community they were persecuting.
They said they would kill my little sister if we didn’t.
she pointed to the house in front of us.
They went there and killed two children.” MSF psychologist Joel-Christopher Bolombo has provided mental health care to trauma patients since he arrived in Kwamouth three weeks ago.
“Some patients have nightmares, develop a mistrust of other communities that they didn’t have before, or show signs of depression or feelings of guilt,” he says.
“In addition to providing traditional medical care, it is essential to help them express their feelings through words or drawings.
These types of events leave patients with invisible wounds that also need to be addressed.” Violence spreads to Bandundu By mid-September, the security situation in Kwamouth had improved enough to allow many of the displaced people to return to their homes, while fighting and violence moved east towards the Bandundu city.
team along the road to Bandundu to assess the needs, and we immediately found seriously injured people who we transferred to Kinshasa,” says Dr. Papy. “The situation in this area remains extremely tense.
This week we saw with our own eyes villages burned and people massacred, in a very worrying pattern of attacks and revenge attacks.
Therefore, we have decided to strengthen our presence in Bandundu to provide assistance to displaced people and respond to medical needs.” While the security situation in the town of Kwamouth has improved in the past week, tensions and violence continue to flare, as happened on 20 September when an attack took place near the town.
Following the attack, MSF staff helped treat the wounded at Kwamouth General Hospital.
“At this point, we will leave a team in Kwamouth to be able to respond to any new outbreaks of violence and needs,” says Dr Papy. This is not the first time that MSF has launched an emergency response in Maï-Ndombe province following intercommunal violence.
Following clashes between the Tende and Nunu communities in Yumbi in December 2018, which killed hundreds of people in just a few days, an MSF team treated the wounded at the general referral hospital in Yumbi and ran mobile clinics to provide medical care and psychological support.