DRC: Displaced communities facing humanitarian crisis

03 Jul 2023

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a worrying humanitarian and medical crisis is unfolding, especially in the North Kivu region, where the resurgence of the M23 armed group has led to an increase in violence since early 2023.

This resurgence has forced thousands of people to flee their homes, seeking safety and refuge in neighbouring countries. 

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MSF staff entering Rusayo site, where over 100,000 displaced persons live in dire conditions for several months, lacking shelter, food, water and sanitation, and protection. © MSF/Michael Neuman

The situation requires urgent attention and substantial humanitarian aid to address the struggles faced by those who are displaced.

Public  health needs in North Kivu

In the North Kivu region, particularly around Goma, approximately 600,000 displaced people are living in desperate conditions. People on the move lack access to adequate food, shelter, and protection, leaving them vulnerable to malnutrition and violence. 

The camps are overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the massive influx of people, with basic necessities severely lacking such as clean water, sanitation facilities, and healthcare. The overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in these camps pose a significant risk to public health, with outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles becoming common.  

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams are providing essential medical care, including emergency interventions, disease treatment, and mental health support, to the displaced population, while advocating for improved access to healthcare services and increased humanitarian aid. However, our teams are witnessing alarming rates of malnutrition and mortality, emphasising the urgent need for increased assistance. 

Immediate action is required to improve the conditions in transit camps and ensure the provision of essential services.

Insecurity and lack of access to healthcare in Ituri

While the situation in North Kivu demands immediate attention, another forgotten emergency unfolds in Ituri province. Intense intercommunal violence and armed clashes have displaced approximately 156,000 people, exacerbating an already extended conflict. 

Communities in Ituri province have been trapped and exposed to extreme violence, impacting their access to medical care and mental well-being. In the face of ongoing attacks, health facilities have become  deserted, leaving the population without essential healthcare services.

Chronic violence, and the fear of further violence, has left people in this area with deep psychological scars, over generations. Many people are fearful of accessing medical facilities, seeing them as potential targets and inherently unsafe. Some would only seek care in an extreme emergency.  

Fleeing to neighbouring countries

More than 30,000 people from DRC have fled into Uganda since August 2022. Many of them passed through the Nyakabande transit centres in western Uganda.

Rubondo, one of the settlement areas for newly arrived refugees, was originally designed for 40,000 people, yet it now accommodates 75,000 people. Despite increases in the number of refugees arriving, no additional resources or infrastructure are available to accommodate them  appropriately.

Many refugees tell us that they can only eat one meal a day. The poor living conditions in the settlement are compounding the development of health problems.

Denis K Mbae
MSF project coordinator in Rubondo

The limited food available in the camps exacerbates the already dire situation. Displaced individuals receive inadequate food rations, forcing them to survive on minimal meals and leading to malnutrition. Children are particularly vulnerable, with reports of high rates of acute malnutrition among young ones.

Growing medical needs

MSF teams are working to provide essential medical care and support to the displaced population despite significant challenges,  including chronic violence and repeated displacements which disrupt medical activities.

Imagine that people have been living through this conflict for years, over several generations, with repeated displacements and few prospects for the future. They are constantly reminded of the massacres of their neighbours and family members,.

Grâce Longa Mugisa
MSF mental health advisor

In addition to the immediate health needs, the mental health and sexual and reproductive health of the displaced population require attention. Victims of sexual violence need comprehensive care, while access to family planning and prenatal services is also vital. 

The prevalence of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory conditions, among the displaced population adds another layer of complexity to the crisis. The current shortage of medicines further compounds the challenges faced by the population and underscores the urgent need for increased support.

MSF response

MSF teams have been working in 12 camps for displaced people around the city of Goma, providing free medical care, supplying drinking water, building latrines and showers, and responding to epidemics like cholera and measles.  

MSF teams are also providing medical care in other cities of the North Kivu province, as well as in Minova and Numbi in the South Kivu province, where tens of thousands of displaced people have also taken refuge. 


An MSF staff member and a child look at the town of Minova and Lake Kivu from the top of a hill. South Kivu province, eastern DRC. © Igor Barbero/MSF

In Itury, MSF collaborates with the Ministry of Health to provide healthcare in Drodro general hospital, and ten other health facilities. Since the beginning of 2023, MSF teams in Drodro health zone have provided 25,630 medical consultations, treated 850 children for malnutrition, provided 435 mental health sessions and cared for 165 survivors of sexual violence.

In Uganda, MSF operates five mobile clinics near refugees, offering primary healthcare, with 22,400 consultations conducted from January to June, addressing seasonal malaria peaks.

MSF teams call for a rapid increase in humanitarian aid for this growing crisis. Immediate action will help to ensure the provision of emergency aid to assist and protect those affected.

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