Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
Torrential rains that started last week have triggered flash floods in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Initial reports spoke of over 52 deaths, but with reports of many people still missing, it will be a while before an accurate account is available.
Aid agencies focusing on COVID-19
The densely populated city of Uvira with more than 450 thousand inhabitants has been hit the hardest. Two bridges connecting the town were swept away by the waters cutting off the city from the rest of the country. According to residents, water just kept coming into houses and on to the streets. It swept away people, especially children -swept away everything: Homes, schools, churches, shops have all been damaged. An already fragile road-network has been eroded. The city shares a border with Burundi, but that was already closed due to coronavirus anti-contagion confinement.
This all comes when funding and international Aid agencies are focused on the coronavirus emergency. Restrictions in travel are also adding to an already stressful situation. This means that there is limited help for the people of Uvira.
No one remembers seeing Lake Tanganyika this high
Fr Dominic Mulumeoderhwa describes the situation as a nightmare. No one in living memory remembers Lake Tanganyika this high. The Kanvimvira and Mulongwe rivers are also overflowing. The floods are so unprecedented that Hippos have been sighted near residential areas of the city.
The Diocesan Caritas office says Uvira needs urgent help. There is a lack of clean drinking water, sanitation has been compromised, and there is a real danger of water-borne diseases such as cholera.
United Nations (UN) agencies doing their best
Local government authorities working with UN agencies particularly UNHCR; the Church through parishes and Caritas Uvira; humanitarian actors already on the ground were all doing their best to coordinate relief efforts. Others such as the Congolese Red Cross were also pitching in to help. Volunteers have been carrying on with search and rescue operations for missing persons.
The “Blue Helmets” UN Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) situated in the area has rescued thousands of people in flooded areas.
Uvira needs food, medicines, drinking water, shelter kits, domestic utensils, and mosquito nets.
Last year Pope Francis prayed for peace in the south Kivu region.
The flooding is just the latest of challenges in a region already besieged by years of insecurity and conflict waged by gangs. During a Mass, on 1 December 2019, at the start of the Catholic Liturgical season of Advent in the St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis celebrated a special Mass with the Congolese community-based in Rome. During the Mass, Pope Francis prayed for an end to the conflict in the south Kivu region. He said the conflict in the area gravely threatened peace and was responsible for so much suffering. A religious sister at the Mass, Sr. Rita Mboshu Kongo told Pope Francis that a silent genocide was happening in the DRC.
South Kivu Province is also home to more than 50,000 Burundian refugees who fled neighbouring Burundi’s political turmoil.
With more rains still being dumped on the city of Uvira and surrounding areas, there is need for more humanitarian assistance. Local efforts are overwhelmed.