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The Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo sees fighting escalate, leaving hundreds of thousands in desperate conditions.

Just 20km from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is intense fighting over the town of Sake. This violence is forcing people to flee, worsening an already dire situation. Two families displaced by the recent violence shared their stories with us.

Sandrine and Vianney

Sandrine hurried home after working in the fields all day, only to find her village to the north of Sake deserted. Hearing that a bomb had hit a nearby military camp, the 32-year-old mother of eight grabbed her children and ran.

“I could only carry one pot with my children’s clothes and four dollars, which I quickly spent on food,” she says.

Recent weeks have seen an escalation in fighting around Sake, a town that had previously avoided the conflict in Masisi territory. Heavy artillery and mortar fire have been constant. In the first week of February alone, around 135,000 people fled towards Goma.

Sandrine arrived at the Rusayo 2 site for displaced people, east of Sake, with nothing left.

“We are afraid of dying from hunger,” she says. “We hear gunshots every day, and we have nothing to eat. The market prices are too high for us to afford. We have no place to sleep, as we had to leave everything behind, including our mattresses.”

Vianney came from Kitchanga with his wife and three children. Initially seeking refuge with a family in Sake, this 32-year-old carpenter was forced to flee the town. He is now staying in a hangar in Rusayo 2 with 89 other families.

“We left with nothing because transportation was too expensive,” he explains. “Here, we rely on good relations with the families around us as we share what little we have during the day.”

Barely Surviving

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), approximately 170,000 people have settled in the two displaced people sites in Rusayo. Over 20,000 new arrivals were recorded in the week starting 12 February.

Crowded into hangars or makeshift shelters, these families lack basic necessities. To feed her children, Sandrine sells firewood she collects in the nearby woods, earning meagre amounts for each bundle, despite the risks involved.

“When we go to the woods, there are soldiers and gunshots every day,” she shares. “Many women have been victims of violence. I was attacked less than a week ago while searching for wood with another woman, but I continue to go every day because it’s our only way to survive.”

While in Sake, Vianney’s wife used to earn money for the family by selling firewood. She would leave at 6am and return at 4pm, with Vianney staying home to care for the children.

“I was afraid to go to the woods due to the soldiers who frequently stop men and demand money,” Vianney says. “I wanted to be home in case humanitarian organizations came to register us. We couldn’t miss that opportunity.”

Currently, the entire family is living in the hangar, and Vianney’s wife has not been able to resume collecting wood yet. She prefers to familiarize herself with the area first.

Access to water poses a significant challenge for displaced families. According to the World Health Organization, individuals in emergencies need a minimum of 15 liters of water per day. Yet, the 127,500 people in Rusayo 1 receive just over 3 liters per person daily.

“My wife often queues for up to three hours to access a water tap, but she usually returns empty-handed due to gunfire interruptions,” Vianney shares.

What Lies Ahead?

The future of these families is uncertain and dependent on the conflict’s outcome. Vianney hopes to return home and is already thinking about the next steps. “While we wait for the war to end, we’ll search for opportunities to work and help rebuild houses,” he says.

Sandrine, on the other hand, has lost hope of returning home and relies on humanitarian aid to rebuild her life. “I wish to leave the site and start a business, but I lack the means,” she admits. “It’s very tough here. I haven’t received any assistance since arriving. I was only registered today, more than two months later.”

Stuck in a precarious and dangerous situation, Sandrine cannot send her children to school. “They don’t have enough food. How can they study?” she wonders. “They help me gather wood, though it frightens them.”

The International Community Must Act

Since November 2023, clashes have displaced over a million people in North Kivu. With more than 2.5 million internally displaced individuals in the province, the NRC is struggling to meet the overwhelming needs with limited resources.

The international community needs to provide substantial support for the humanitarian response in North Kivu and other ongoing crises in eastern DR Congo.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

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