, 03 June, 2020 / 3:15 AM
The reported increase in violence in the Province of Ituri of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is worsening an already dire humanitarian situation in the region, which is covered by the Catholic Diocese of Bunia, an official of Malteser International (MI) has cautioned.
“The precarious security situation is putting additional pressure on the already stretched humanitarian services in the region and we are very concerned for the safety of our staff,” the head MI’s Africa Desk, Roland Hansen has reported.
“Many of the displaced persons have told horrific stories of extreme violence,” the official has added in a report published May 29 and continued, “More and more people with machete wounds and other severe injuries are arriving for treatment at our medical facilities.”
A gold-rich area, Ituri, located in the Northeastern part of DRC has borne the brunt of the country’s worst violence with a report indicating that thousands of people died between 1999-2007 after power wrangles between militias mutated into inter-ethnic conflicts between Lendu farmers and Hema herders.
Tensions have been high in the region since December 2019 following the launch of a government-led military operation against various armed groups operating in the area, coupled with inter-ethnic conflicts between Lendu farmers and Hema herders.
According to the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO), Lendu armed groups have become notorious in carrying out attacks against the Hema and members of other ethnic groups with an objective of taking control of land and resources.
In early March, assailants attacked and injured Fr. Guy-Robert Mandro, the Parish Priest of the Immaculate Heart Parish of Fataki in the Diocese of Bunia, which falls under the volatile region of Ituri.
Violence spiked in mid-March 2020 occasioned by an increase in counter-attacks by the armed groups, leading to the loss of 700 lives and the displacement of at least 1.2 million people.
At the beginning of May 2020, the UN sounded alarm over the violence in the region, which has mostly affected women and children.
According to Mr. Hansen, homes and other infrastructure have been destroyed in the violence, including a health facility, which MI, the worldwide relief agency of the Rome-based Catholic Lay Religious Order of Malta supports. The facility was “demolished and looted,” the leadership of MI has reported.
The new wave of violence “is putting further pressure on already stretched humanitarian services in one of the poorest, most insecure and disease-stricken parts of the country,” UNICEF officials warned May 20 noting that 70 percent of humanitarian workers had to suspend their operations over security concerns.
Mr. Hansen of MI has lamented, “Unfortunately, this crisis receives very little international publicity. While the world is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that DR Congo is not ignored.”
He has added, “We must respond quickly if we are to prevent further death and mass displacement. A deterioration in the humanitarian situation would also have a catastrophic impact on the country’s ability to fight COVID-19.”
Headquartered in Germany and USA, MI has been present in DRC since 1996, primarily working with local organizations and national institutions to improve healthcare services in 250 medical facilities and 14 hospitals across the vast Central African nation.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa