In the Kayna region of North Kivu, hundreds of thousands of people are caught in crisis. Homes and health centres were ransacked and emptied in the latest upsurge of violence in late November. Below, Sahla Issoufou, who coordinates MSF’s medical activities in the region, answers questions about the situation facing the people.
What is happening in the Kayna region?
Massive looting started in November across the region. As a result, the entire population of Kayna and the nearby village of Kanyabayonga fled — including both the residents and the displaced people who had settled there. Over a two week period nearly every home was looted. Health centres were also ransacked, with most medical staff fleeing to safety, leaving many medical centres completely deserted. At the end of November, the people of Kayna and Kanyabayonga began to return to the area. Though 70% of them came back, many still continue to hide in the bush, fearing new outbreaks of violence. Many of the people who had actually settled in Kayna region had fled before, some already uprooted as many as three or four times before. Over the last three months, there have been several waves of acute violence in this region. While there has been a small improvement since the November lootings, the area remains insecure. Each time that violence breaks out, people flee, leaving everything behind, seeking refuge in the bush or other places that are often very far away. The challenge that MSF faces with these displacements is to ensure that we constantly adapt our response and activities so that we remain as close as possible to these people.
Can you describe the greatest problems people are facing?
These people have been victims of violence and of repeated displacement. Since the end of October their needs dramatically increased, because the population in the area doubled following the arrival of those fleeing violent clashes in Rutshuru district. Everyone in the region needs food and clean water to drink, especially as food stocks were stolen during the recent looting. Currently, people are dying because they cannot access medical treatment. So, for MSF the biggest priority is to ensure that we get free medical assistance to these people. Our teams have to urgently refurnish the looted health structures so that they can begin to function properly once again and every day we send our medical staff out in mobile teams across Kayna, Kanyabayonga and Kirumba so they can get as close as possible to the displaced people. These teams carry out 350 medical consultations each day. In addition, the families who have returned now have to try to resettle, which means that they need mattresses to sleep on, kitchen utensils to prepare food with and so on — essentially, the most basic things to be able to carry on living.
What else is happening on the ground? Are there other emergencies you are responding to?
Our team in the area is made up of 70 staff, the vast majority of whom are Congolese, though there are also three international staff – a medical doctor, a surgeon and an anaesthetist. In addition to running mobile clinics, MSF also supports all the services in Kayna hospital, where about forty patients are currently hospitalised. At the end of November, we operated on nine people with bullet wounds. Most of these patients were civilians. One woman died from a bullet to her head. Aside from violent injuries, our medical teams also worry about diseases that can cause epidemics. In Lunyasenghe – a village located on the shores of Lake Edward that can only be reached by a 2.5 hour journey in a small boat – local health posts registered 77 suspected cases of cholera and 10 deaths between the 18th and the 23rd of November. Consequently, MSF quickly travelled to the area to donate medical equipment and medicines. We set up a cholera treatment centre where, since November 28th, we have already cared for 21 patients.