By Mirabelle Enaka Kima, IFRC
It is 8 a.m. on a usual sunny morning in Lounia – an ideal time for women to meet at the river to do their laundry. But for 18-year-old Veronique Tchibouaboua, the task is a more complicated one, given her disability and responsibilities as a young mother. She and her daughter are two of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) that have sought shelter in Kikwit, in the Kwilu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Like many other women, Tchibouaboua has been forced by the Kasai conflict to flee her home in search of a safer place. Women form the vast majority of the IDPs – their husbands have either been killed or are missing.
“It has been both a chaotic experience and traumatizing situation for my daughter and myself. We travelled through the forest on a motorbike for a week. We did not have enough money to take a bus. We had very little to eat on the way and had just 15,000 Congolese francs (around 10 US dollars) to cover our needs throughout the journey,” said Tchibouaboua.
“My daughter has been sick since we left our village and I had no other option but to treat her with forest plants. We kept the money we had for our food, knowing that we would be needing plenty of strength to go through the rocky and poor roads on the way,” she adds.
Since March 2017, an estimated 12,000 IDPs from the Kasai region have been registered in Kikwit. For the most, they found shelter with generous host families and churches and are surviving thanks to local solidarity.
Tchibouaboua and her daughter were welcomed by a host family where they have been living since July. However, finding something to eat remains a daily challenge.
“We are safe from violence now. But how can we survive if we do not have something to eat? I am desperate as I am not being able to do something for either of us. My daughter is the only thing I have and seeing her going to bed hungry breaks my heart,” says Tchibouaboua.
More than eight sites have been identified in Kikwit by local communities as places of gathering and registration of new IDP arrivals. These vulnerable families regularly visit the sites, hoping to receive assistance. With few exceptions, people return empty handed since significant aid is yet to come.
Ekeziel Kadomba is a member of the local committee formed by host communities, and coordinates the Lounia IDP site. “Seeing women and their little children wandering all day long looking for something to eat is simply exasperating. We have no choice other than to squeeze something out from our own resources to assist them,” he says.
Kikwit is one of the towns hosting IDPs where the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with support from other International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners, has provided emergency food distribution and cash transfer assistance to affected people.
But more help is on the way. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has allocated emergency funds amounting 271,326 Swiss francs to support an initial intervention and conduct an in-depth assessment in three provinces – Lomami, Sankuru and Kwilu. The result of the assessment will support the design of an operational plan to address the urgent needs of both the displaced and host families.
As of date, the flow of IDPs in the Kwilu province has not stopped as new arrivals continue to be registered.
Zinedine Kada, IFRC’s Operations Coordinator in DRC, explains: “The ongoing operation intends to fill a gap and provide much needed assistance. However, there are thousands of IDPs like Tchibouaboua who need urgent aid in terms of food, emergency health, water, shelter, sanitation and hygiene promotion.
“The IFRC appeals for more substantial international solidarity to help these vulnerable women and children.”