Kinshasa, December 18, 2019—A neglected humanitarian crisis is affecting hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the southern part of North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Wednesday. MSF is one of the only organizations providing emergency medical care and support in the region and calls on other humanitarian organizations and donors to urgently return to the area to provide assistance. 

For years, three territories in the southern part of North Kivu—Masisi, Walikale, and Rutshuru—have been plagued with armed violence. Insecurity, difficulties in movement, and a lack of funding have all contributed to the withdrawal of several aid organizations over the past few years, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which stopped its support in Masisi territory in 2019 . 

In recent months, armed clashes have intensified, further deteriorating the already urgent humanitarian situation. More than 687,500 people are now displaced, living in camps or hosted by local families, and MSF is witnessing worrying levels of malnutrition and sexual violence.

“Given the reduction in the number of organizations, we have been responding to an increasing number of medical, but also non-medical, needs, especially in camps,” said Karel Janssens, MSF head of mission in DRC. “Now we’re running at maximum capacity, and other emergency organizations must urgently come back and help respond to the massive humanitarian needs on the ground.”

 “Since the start of the year, the number of victims of sexual violence treated by MSF in Masisi has doubled compared to last year, and we have seen an increase in malnutrition cases,” said Ewald Stals, MSF field coordinator in Masisi health zone. “The escalation of armed clashes has also led to more people being treated for bullet wounds, and to a surge of displaced families arriving in already overcrowded camps where access to water and sanitation is scarce. Unsurprisingly, cholera cases have been reported and we’ve had to rapidly set up a cholera treatment center.”

From January to September 2019, MSF teams working in the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru, and Walikale treated more than 11,220 malnourished children, 2,310 victims of sexual violence, and 1,980 people with weapons injuries, from gunshots and knives. Despite this critical situation, there is a glaring absence of humanitarian organizations providing assistance in the territories.

For months, MSF has advocated for other humanitarian organizations to return to the territories. As a result, a handful of organizations with temporary funding from the DRC Humanitarian Fund arrived in mid-November. “This support is temporary and far from enough to meet the needs,” says Janssens. “Given the scale of the crisis, a much larger humanitarian response is needed in southern North Kivu, with organizations being present on the ground and benefitting from longer-term funding. The Humanitarian Response Plan 2020 for DRC must clearly take this into account in its upcoming revision.”