The coronavirus pandemic has added to the already long list of health threats and armed conflicts in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where restrictive measures further complicate the work of aid workers.
In total, eastern DRC recorded 21 cases of Covid-19, very little compared to the capital Kinshasa (1,594) 2,000 km away.
“The Covid-19 crisis must not make us forget the atrocities that continue”, warned on Tuesday the gynecologist Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize 2018, himself at the head of care teams in the South -Kivu.
Nearly 300 civilians have been massacred since March in Ituri, where the violence of an ethno-mystical armed group has caused the displacement of 200,000 people according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
In North Kivu, 15 people were killed in 48 hours in the Beni region, stronghold of the formidable Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Eleven small armed groups active in the territory of Lubero declared Monday “the immediate cessation of hostilities”, but without referring to the virus. “We are ready to lay down our arms,” said warlord Guidon, in a costume video with a mask.
In South Kivu, the Congolese army observes a “lull” in the conflict between local communities and the Banyamulenge, Tutsi Congolese herders with distant Rwandan origins.
– Raise awareness by phone –
And in Tanganyika, the same Congolese army is “on the alert” due to a border dispute with Zambia.
“March 2020 was one of the least deadly months for civilians since the start of our surveys (47 deaths recorded, compared to 88 on average)”, summarizes an expert from the Kivu Security Barometer (KST), who has been tracking violence in the two provinces of Kivu since 2017.
“But since then, violence has resumed (85 civilians killed) and the number of clashes in April is even higher than the average with 60 clashes during the month against 51 on average,” he added.
“No, conflicts do not end with epidemics,” said International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Fatima Sator.
“The coronavirus epidemic adds to the long list of already existing problems: several armed conflicts, other epidemics such as measles, cholera, Ebola, malaria, and very great difficulties in accessing healthcare for populations “, she summarizes.
“We are continuing our actions in the East but adapting to preventive measures,” adds the ICRC. “For example, we are continuing our awareness-raising sessions with armed groups. Before, we did this during meetings with the actors concerned, but today we are raising their awareness on the phone.”
“The coronavirus must not jeopardize the response to other health emergencies,” warns the NGO Médecins sans frontières (MSF), which is committed against Covid-19 but also against Ebola and measles.
NGO officials are concerned about the influx of internally displaced people in Ituri.
“I don’t think the Covid-19 is the first concern for these people. They have makeshift shelters, or even no shelter at all, no shower, not enough latrines” according to Avra Fiala, in charge of MSF communication.
The province of North Kivu reinstated restrictive measures on Wednesday morning (isolation and night curfew in Goma) with the reappearance of new cases.
The governor had lifted these measures a few weeks ago with the healing of the first cases.
The three eastern provinces (Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu) live at the time of closing the borders with neighboring countries (Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi).
Stranded in Burundi, several hundred Congolese were able to return to their country on Tuesday, before the presidential election on Wednesday in the “small country”.
“The borders are closed for people, but the goods pass,” said an official from the Directorate General of Migration (DMG) at one of the two border crossings with Rwanda in Goma.
This importation of goods from Rwanda is vital to contain the soaring prices of meat in Bukavu: “With the closing of borders, the price of a cow had increased from 500 to 600 dollars to 800 or even 900 dollars”, testifies Dieudonné Byaombe, head of the Elakat slaughterhouse.
“Since May 11, we have been welcoming three to four trucks full of cows from Rwanda as in the past as per day. We are breathing with these flexibility measures,” he added. A fight against the rise in prices all the more vital as the Congolese franc falls against the dollar (1,900 for a dollar).