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300,000 flee flare-up of ethnic violence in north-eastern DR Congo (19.06.2019)

Teams have also been deployed to assess the situation and engage with communities and the authorities to help prevent more attacks.

NEW YORK, United States of America, June 19, 2019 – More than 300,000 people have been forced to flee resurgent inter-ethnic violence in north-east Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) just this month, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday.

Citing multiple attacks and counter-attacks between Hema herders and Lendu farmers, UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch told journalists in Geneva that the situation had worsened in recent days.

The development comes amid reports of intense fighting between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and non-state armed actors in Djugu territory, as the authorities attempt to bring the situation under control in the vast, resource-rich region.

“People are fleeing attacks and counter attacks in Djugu Territory, with reports of both communities forming self-defence groups and being involved in revenge killings”, Mr. Baloch said.

“The details we are receiving from our partners, and also some of the displaced”, he said, included reports of “brutalities against civilians, killings, sexual violence, and other extreme forms of violence against civilians”, noting that UNHCR’s warning is based on information received from sources in 125 locations.

Three of Ituri’s five administrative territories – Djugu, Mahagi and Irumu – have all seen mass displacement after self-defence militia reportedly carried out “revenge killings”, according to UNHCR.

Peacekeepers beef-up presence in trouble-spots

In response to fears that the situation could escalate further, the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, which goes by the French acronym MONUSCO, has set up three temporary military bases in Djugu and Mahagi.

Teams have also been deployed to assess the situation and engage with communities and the authorities to help prevent more attacks.

Simmering rivalry between the Hema and Lendu goes back decades; in the five-year war which began in 1998, thousands were killed.

Then, as now, there is concern about the humanitarian situation in Bunia, the regional capital of Ituri, amid reports from UNHCR that those trying to reach the relative safety of sites there and surrounding the urban centre “are reportedly blocked by armed youth from both ethnic groups”, while others “are trying to cross Lake Albert into Uganda”.

To date, the majority of those forced to flee violence have found shelter with host communities, while some 30,000 people have arrived in displacement sites where conditions were already dire, with many needing shelter and health care, UNHCR’s Mr. Baloch said.

Mass displacement could complicate Ebola fight – WHO

In response to a journalist’s question as to whether the mass displacement risked complicating efforts to tackle the ongoing Ebola virus disease outbreak north-eastern DRC, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said that the “mobility” of people in Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu was a “risk factor”.

He added: “Every time you have people moving in high numbers, it’s more complicated to work on follow-ups: contact-tracing, follow-ups on people basically who are supposed to be observed on a daily basis, or for 21 days” – the incubation period for the disease.

So far, DRC’s latest Ebola outbreak has claimed 1,449 lives and infected 2168 people since it was declared on 1 August last year, said Mr. Jasarevic.

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DRC: Local leaders help turn the tide on Ebola (11.06.2019)

So far there have been more than 2008 cases in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.

CAIRO, Egypt, June 11, 2019 – Joseph Kakule, the community leader of the Vighole area, has become one of the most committed social mobilizers in a region ravaged by the ongoing outbreak Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Kakule, 47, is a native of Butembo. He is one of the local leaders who are working to mobilize community engagement to combat Ebola. “Listening to my community, sharing its anxieties and trying to find a solution – that’s what motivates me,” he says.

Kakule and his deputy, 30-year-old Gervais Muhindo, form a duo resolutely determined to break the silence about the disease, and to end mistrust of Ebola health workers.

This week, they both feel happy that they have done their duty. They managed to persuade people who had come in contact with the most recent confirmed cases of Ebola to agree to be vaccinated. Located southwest of Butembo, Vighole is part of the Katwa health zone, which is considered one of the strongholds of community resistance. People here have turned a deaf ear to attempts to raise awareness of an epidemic that has continued to spread.

Every day for the past ten months, Ebola cases have been reported in Butembo – a city of more than one million inhabitants – and its immediate surroundings, including Binone, Kabondo, Kavisa, Kirimbere and Vuhunga. So far there have been more than 2 008 cases in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, including 1 900 confirmed and 94 probable, with more than 1 340 deaths.

To make sure that vaccination teams from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization could safely arrive on site to administer the Ebola vaccine, Kakule and Muhindo first toured the alleys of Vighole, meeting community members. Their goal was to conduct an in-depth door-to-door awareness campaign so that a vaccination site could be set up. They were targeting first and second degree contacts with people who had been diagnosed with the virus.

“It has been a long time since an Ebola response team could set foot here,” Kakule says, “but we are mobilizing against misinformation and lack of trust within our community, which itself is plagued by doubt and anger at the insecurity caused by armed groups.”

During the first six months of 2019, the Katwa area and the Butembo urban agglomeration experienced several attacks attributed to armed groups. These attacks included the looting and destruction of Ebola treatment centres, during which some health responders at the frontline and security forces repelling the attackers lost their lives.

Kakule remembers that, after difficult weeks of bitterness and misunderstanding following these violent incidents, he and Muhindo simply decided to organize community meetings to explain that the Ebola virus disease was a serious danger that threatened everyone without exception.

“Those who die of this deadly virus are our brothers and sisters. We cannot give up and watch the situation continue to deteriorate like this without doing anything,” Kakule says. The Vighole area was recently in uproar after a series of deaths occurred within a single family. First came the death of a 17-year-old boy suspected of having contracted Ebola, followed by the deaths of both his parents a few days later.

“I told myself that talking about Ebola to members of our neighbourhood is not a crime, even if other residents treat us like sell-outs bought by the response teams,” says Muhindo.

Muhindo says he often uses “the testimonies of those who are already healed from Ebola as a powerful argument to sweep away the doubt” of his neighbours in the Vighole area. He also talks about the importance of vaccinating or decontaminating affected households to prevent the disease from spreading further.

Combating misinformation

Teams of first responders to the deadly Ebola virus have often faced community mistrust, fuelled by misinformation spread by some parliamentary candidates in the general elections that took place in late 2018. This is one of the reasons why Kakule and Muhindo decided to fight misinformation about the epidemic, which is having an increasingly negative impact on their community.

“We talk to everyone – young, old and even children. We tell them that it is better to get vaccinated if you came in contact with a confirmed Ebola patient rather than wait a long time to develop the disease only to die later,” Kakule says.

On Friday, May 31, the response teams arrived in Vighole to begin vaccination in the field around the identified contacts. On the same day, the WHO Assistant Director-General for Emergencies and Health Risks, Dr Ibrahima Socé-Fall, visited the site and praised “the courage and commitment of these two community leaders,” referring to Kakule and Muhindo. Thanks to their hard work, their community, once resistant to response activities, is now mobilized to take ownership of the fight to get Katwa and its various neighbourhoods out of the chain of transmission of Ebola.

These response activities, coordinated by the Ministry of Health with the support of the World Health Organization and other partners, have generously received financial contributions from several donors, including Germany, the United States of America, the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), China, South Korea, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), DFID, Japan, Norway, Sweden, the European Union, Canada. Gavi, The Wellcome Trust and others.

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