Refugee Stories: “The victims of natural disaster: displaced people? Yes, but actually forgotten.”

The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists based in Uvira (South Kivu), in Congo, DRC.

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Summary:
The story starts by the author observation. It’s about the displaced people, victims of flooding by the waters of Nyangara Pond, in DR Congo, South Kivu Province, in Uvira territory. The waters of this pond had left their natural bed before pouring into the residential area of Kilomoni and destroying many private dwellings whose victims had moved into a chapel of the Catholic Parish of the area. Later, to facilitate the liturgical activities, a site was built using tarpaulins donated by a Xaverian Father. To date, besides the aids obtained two months ago, these displaced people do not know how to go about it so as to go back to their life at home, because of the lack of livelihood, security and protection by the Congolese State and entitled organizations.

The observation…

Once upon a time, in June 2018, when I was heading for Bujumbura, the Burundian capital, located a few tens of kilometers from the city of Uvira, in the province of South Kivu, DR Congo, I caught a glimpse of the tents built in tarpaulins, looking like military barracks, at the edge of the Congolese road leading to the border with the Burundi.

As a result, I was curious to know what it was all about, but I could not stop the vehicle that was carrying us because everyone seemed in a hurry for his business. At my sides, none of the passengers around me could tell me what it really was because everyone was asking everyone.

Two days after my stay in Bujumbura…

As I knew that in the quarter where I saw these tents there is a Burundian refugee transit center, all my thoughts went in the direction of an extension of this center, but still it was necessary to verify. So one good morning, I went to the site to inquire.

As soon as I arrived, I found a mother carrying her child on the back, getting out of a tent to go into the shade of an unfinished building located two meters from the site. I approached her and introduced myself before proposing to her a conversation which she accepted willingly.

Me and her under the shadow of the unfinished building…

Me: How are you?

Her: We are a bit good despite this dramatic situation that has hit us.

Me: Dramatic situation…! Would you like to tell me about it?

Her: In March 2018, our houses had collapsed due to the flood waters of the Pond “Nyangara” which had overflowed before pouring into the residential area of Kilomoni. And many of us, victims of this disaster, had nowhere to go. That’s how we came to take refuge in the chapel of the Catholic parish of Kilomoni.

Me: It was a natural disaster then …. but how did you survive this cascading collapse of the flooded houses?

Her: Oh! That’s the wonder of God and it’s no secret to anyone. At the beginning of this year 2018, heavy rains were felling regularly over most of Uvira’s territory. The waters of the pond “Nyangara” gradually swelled, some could see how their homes were flooding, and others were surprised to see the water rises from the bottom of their houses and fill them all in a few hours. Noticing this situation, we tried to save what we could by starting with the little children before taking care of the furniture. A pity that many did not succeed because most of the houses were built in adobe, therefore much more fragile in contact with the water and yielded easily. That’s how many goods had perished.

Me: Who did welcome you in the chapel and how did you leave there to live in these tents built of tarpaulins?

Her: Initially, when we slept in the chapel, it was on the authorization of a reverend Xaverian Father as a sign of compassion with the victims of the natural disaster, while in the meantime, the liturgical activities took place there during the day. Thus, to free space, we asked the Reverend Father to provide us with tarpaulins to temporarily build tents in the enclosure of the parish that was not invaded by the water. That’s how he paid us tarpaulins for the construction of these tents in which we live today.

Me: How do you live in this site?

Her: We live with difficulties, because it was only in April and May 2018 that we received visits from certain politico-administrative authorities and some humanitarian organizations. After identification of all the victims, some NGOs gave us living goods including beans and rice; another one had built us a latrine. But also, some administrative authorities had given us kitchen utensils, soaps and few clothes. However, since June, we each one manage in one’s own way to make ends of month meet. Many of us are farmers, other fishermen. When we leave our tents for our occupations, we lose a lot of property for the lack of security and surveillance of the site. Particularly, the Congolese State has taken no steps to protect us and secure us.

… Under conversation, other people, also victims of this natural disaster, were heading towards us …, among them, there was a lady who had been indicated to me as responsible of the displaced people of this site. Suddenly, I greeted her and introduced myself at the same time.

Her (responsible of the displaced people site): Thank you and welcome to our place.

Me: You are welcome, Madam! I would like to know how much you live in this site?

Her: We are here forty households, but other victims of this disaster settle in unfinished building sites here in Kilomoni.

Me: Now that the waters of the “Nyangara” pond are gradually regaining their natural bed, are there not people among you who are going back to their homes?

Her: No, unfortunately. Because most of the flooded houses had collapsed, and to return to live there, you must have the means to start building. The majority of those who occupy tents here do not really have those means. On the other hand, those who prefer to be much safer are going to look for unfinished building sites in the quarter to settle there, because here, the more it rains the more the tarpaulins are destroyed in contact with the sunlight which shines in Uvira.

Me: What does the Congolese state say about your case?

Her: Nothing at all.

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