ACCOUNTS of “barbaric violence” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been reported by the United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR, which has sent an emergency team into the conflict-ridden Ituri region.
The dormant ethnic conflict between Hema herders and Lendu farmers in Ituri, north-eastern DRC, flared up again since last year (News, 9 March). Hundreds of people have died, and about 350,000 are estimated to have fled after their homes and villages were destroyed: some have gone into neighbouring Uganda, but many have been displaced into temporary camps in the region. Those who are beginning to go back have found that, in many cases, there is no home or village left to return to.
A team from UNHCR has recently gained access to part of the region. The communications officer for the agency, Charlie Yaxley, said: “Our team heard numerous, harrowing reports of barbaric violence, including armed groups attacking civilians with guns, arrows, and machetes; entire villages razed; and farms and shops being looted and damaged beyond repair.
“The humanitarian challenges are enormous, with hospitals, schools, and other key infrastructure having been completely destroyed. UNHCR is particularly concerned about the number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and who are in need of urgent medical care.”
Shortfall in funding. The humanitarian appeal for DRC is the least funded in the world: just 17 per cent of the £153 million requested has been donated (News, 20 April).
Tearfund has been working in DRC through partners and churches for more than 30 years. The charity’s country director, David McAllister, said: “The relentless violence in the DRC is heartbreaking. Tearfund’s approach of working through the church network means that we are able to bring life-saving intervention, as well as food and shelter to some of the hardest to reach areas. Because the Church is already present in these places — even in UN ‘red zones’ — we are, too.
“Our team recently met one of the local chiefs, who explained to us: ‘Our elders taught us to hate the other tribe, and children still grow up with hatred in their hearts. Our hope is in the Church to bring us together and promote dialogue.’
“It’s extraordinary, because this leader, who is aligned with one of the warring groups, was asking for assistance to be able to support returning refugees from the opposing group to rebuild shelters. This is a light in a very dark situation.
“While we can bring some relief to the desperate plight of people fleeing violence, the bigger picture has to be about building peace. Tearfund has been instrumental in bringing together warring factions in local communities for peace talks, but there is a huge need for reconciliation and healing. The funding available from the international community falls far short of what is required to be able to fully respond to meet basic emergency needs.”