Photostory: One of the world's most severe humanitarian crises

"I have never seen anything like this in Kasai before"

30 Oct 17

For more than a year a wave of violence has affected the Kasai region, one of Democratic Republic of Congo's poorest provinces.

The Great Kasai region was transformed into one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world today after unrest began in August 2016 and spread across an area the size of Italy.

The peak of violence has died down, and the region is now facing the aftermath of the crisis. The bulk of the areas are now accessible, and the humanitarian needs among displaced people and local communities is extremely high.

Since the conflict broke out, 1.5 million people have been displaced in the Greater Kasai region.

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Michele Kabeya, 30, Ditekemena health centre.

“We left the village of Senge after an attack by militiamen and the army. We were in the forest nearby. After two months living there, the police told us that we could go back to the village, but in the night some soldiers came and shot at us.

“I came here by walking through the forest for three or four days. We have been exposed to all kinds of problems: mosquitoes and not knowing what to eat… Some children died.

“I used to search for diamonds. In Senge, we also had farmers and other people doing different kinds of jobs. It isn’t possible for my family to go back there, so we looked for a room in Tshikapa.

“I know many people – women, men and children – who have been murdered. I can’t even count how many. They were buried in mass graves of 30 or 40 people together, just in front of the houses. I have never seen anything like this in Kasai before. If aid workers don’t come here, it will be a death sentence for us."

Dr Alex Kapuku Muanza

Dr Alex Kapuku Muanza shows the impact of a bullet that entered Ditikemena health centre in December 2016.

When the military clashed with a militia in front of the hospital in December 2016, Dr Muanza was on duty. He refused to flee the hospital because there were comatose patients under his watch.

“I could not leave my patients behind. We could see the bodies of those killed from my office window.”

After the violence he was briefly arrested, accused of treating militia fighters in the centre.

Despite the conflict quieting down in Tshikapa, Dr Muanza still treats victims of violence and those suffering from malnutrition caused by the conflict at the Ditikemena health centre.

Mashanga and her 11-month-old grandson Mulumba

Mashanga has brought her 11-month-old grandson, Mulumba, to the outpatient therapeutic feeding centre supported by MSF at Mukendi health centre in Tshikapa.

"An attack happened in my village  of Senge last May. It was at night and a lot of armed men entered the town first and then our house.

"They cut off the heads of this child’s mother and father. I can’t breastfeed him as I am the grandmother. He was just a few months old. The child was found alive afterwards.

"We hid in the bush for three weeks. It was very difficult. We had to cross fields to arrive here. The only time we experienced this kind of violence was before independence.

"Now I’m living in the church with 10 other people who are from towns like Kamako or Kamonia. It isn’t easy living there and I have nothing to do during the day. I’m alone with the child.

"We have other relatives scattered in other places. Before the conflict, the situation was calm. We communicated with people who spoke other languages. There were marriages between people from different communities.

"It isn’t possible now to go back to our hometown. All of the houses have been destroyed."

A malnourished 17-month-old baby.

Malnourished 17-month-old twins brought to the Ditekemena health centre by their grandparents.

They have been hiding in the bush for five months after armed militias attacked their village. Both of their parents were killed and the babies suffered knife wounds.

Displaced families in a provisional shelter organised by a local priest in Tshikapa.

Madou Banachini (in the centre) and her husband Emil left their home and all their belongings when they heard of massacres happening in the villages around them.

They spent some time in the bush and later came to Tshikapa, hoping they could stay with relatives.

Unfortunately, the family had no more space left. They have been living in this provisional shelter for four months.

Ntumba Kasomba, 31, sits on a hospital bed in Ditekemena health centre.

Ntumba Kasomba's left arm has an old injury and may need to be amputated. When her village was attacked, five of her children were killed, but her two-year-old and nine-month-old baby survived.  

“A group of militiamen entered the village. We took refuge with our family in the house. When we left, they attacked us with machetes. One young child received a lot of cuts and another one died. Afterwards I hid. I can’t go back to my village because all the houses have been burnt and I don’t know what I would do there.

My stepmother and my aunt are still alive. Five of my children died. My husband was shot.  Almost everybody has died in the village. Only 50 to 100 people survived.

They [the militiamen] wanted to expel everyone from the area who is not like them. All I wish for is for peace and to be able to take care of my children who are still alive.”

Jean Paul Buana, nurse and director of the Mayi Munene health centre, examines the damage to the operating theatre.

“When we first saw what they had done to the centre, we cried. There was nothing else to do but cry.

“In the month of March, militiamen arrived and began to kill policemen and soldiers. The policemen fled. Teachers, pastors, nurses were the next ones [to be killed]. They burned the house of the administrator, they burned the school... The most serious attacks happened in April.

"They looted all the medicines from the health centre and then burned the building. The operating theatre, the cold store for the vaccines, the pharmacy, the consultation rooms, the reception rooms were all destroyed.

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