DR Congo

Children face continued displacement in the DRC

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44,000 internally displaced people were torn away from their homes yet again by fighting that broke out in Ankoro in November last year. Situated on the Congo River approximately 800 km from Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo's second major centre, Ankoro has been on the frontline of the country's devastating war. The Congo River divides part of the town from rebel-controlled territory.
World Vision estimates that 3,000 homes were destroyed and more than 100 people were killed in the conflict last year, which erupted between government soldiers and Mai Mai militias.

Displaced families form the majority of Ankoro's population. They fled here from mineral-rich areas in the north, where much of the war has been played out. They come from surrounding areas such as Manono and Kaliemie and other areas close to Lake Tanganyika. Some families have travelled up to 1,000 km to reach Ankoro. Families walk for days through harsh territory with no food, arriving in new lands with no possessions and no relatives to provide assistance.

Yumba wa Mwamba and his children lived in the forests for four years after leaving their home in Nyunzu, 350 km from Ankoro.Two of his children were born in the bush. Yumba's 18-year old daughter, Palila Fatuma, described what happened. "We were living naked," she says. "When the war started we had to leave home. We came to Ankoro because we heard it was peaceful."

Yumba now lives with his family in a camp with 100 other displaced families. Palima says her father cannot afford to send her to school. She says she earns a little money ploughing for the local people, who own land. "It's hard work, but I have no choice," she says. She has to look after her younger brothers and sisters.

Sifa Ngaboyeka, a member of a local committee of displaced people in Ankoro, says displaced families here are really struggling. "Displaced people in Ankoro have so many problems," she says. "They have no food, no bedding, no mosquito nets and no shelter. They also have no cooking utensils. They cannot farm because they have no hoes or seeds. Health is also a problem. The small children need medicine and education. But they have no books or pens. Children here have no clothes. They walk around in rags."

Conflict displaces thousands of people in the DRC every year. I talked with children who have been running away from war for as long as they can remember. 15-year old Mwilambwe Kyungu has been displaced twice since she was 11 years old. They settled in Ankoro after leaving their home in Manono, 115 km away. Mwilambwe and her four siblings are severely malnourished. Mwilambwe's mother says her children first started to experience health problems when they arrived in Ankoro.

Mwilambwe's four-year old brother, Kiofuue, is suffering from kwashiorkor, a condition related to malnutrition. Kiofuue's appearance is shocking. His face is bloated, his skin discoloured and his hair is thinning from lack of protein. His grandfather says he first started to get ill when his family was forced to live in the bush for two and a half weeks after soldiers attacked their village last year. "We ate tree leaves and mushrooms," Mwilambwe's grandfather says. The family only eats one meal a day if they are able to get food.

Mwilambwe and her family are staying at the hospital in Ankoro town. "Life is very hard right now," Mwilambwe says. She and her 13-year old sister, Adolphine, look much younger than they really are. Their development has been stunted by malnutrition.

Mwilambwe says she hasn't been to school since she arrived in Ankoro. For Mwilambwe and many IDP children, life has been a series of displacements. Education is a luxury of settled children, children with homes.

Much of the destruction in November occurred in the south part of Ankoro, where most of the displaced population is concentrated. Local people can be seen setting up temporary shelters alongside IDP families. The displacement of the local residents has compounded what was already a serious crisis. "What we have here is a relief on top of a relief situation," says Colleen Taylor, Nutritionist for World Vision DRC.

Mwamba Ngwalo (40) fled here with his wife and seven children from Kabalo, about 100 km north of Ankoro. Mwamba and his family share a compound with 30 other people in south Ankoro. "We are going through hardships," he says. Mwamba says they have no food or clothes. Kabange Ka Ngoy (48) who also sleeps in the compound says that his family has no blankets or mattresses.

Few displaced families are established enough to practice farming in Ankoro. "Only local people have land," Kabange says. Many displaced people work for the local people and have no tools of their own.