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Surviving DRC’s ‘Triangle of Death’

In what has been called DRC's forgotten crisis, tens of thousands of people have been driven from their homes by violence in a remote part of Katanga province. The UN World Food Programme has been working hard to assist these displaced people since the start of last year but there are many challenges - insecurity, poor roads and lack of resources.

Among the hundreds of displaced people milling about the school grounds at Santé on the outskirts of Pweto was Margueritte Simba, a slender woman carrying a baby in a shawl across her back. Having collected her ration of WFP maize flour, pulses, oil and salt, she retired to the shade of a tree.

“We were in our village, Kasama, one evening a few months ago when the mayi-mayi  came in and started burning our houses,” she said. “I fled into the bush, taking my children and nothing else.”

Today, Margueritte and her seven children live in a straw hut in a village outside Pweto. Her story is typical of the thousands of people who have fled conflict in a swathe of territory near the DRC’s border with Zambia. So extreme has the suffering of the local population been since the beginning of 2012 that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) titled its April 2013 report on the situation, D. R. Congo’s Neglected ‘Triangle of Death’. According to OCHA, as many as 200,000 people have been driven from the area to the three towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto that form the triangle.

Marguerite with a baby on her back

Caught in the middle

The report cites “indiscriminate firing against civilians, rapes, looting and torching of houses”. Caught in the middle of the conflict between the so-called mayi-mayi  rebels and the FARDC government forces – whose members have also been implicated in attacks – are the civilians, most of them smallholder farmers.

Humanitarian agencies working in the area face major problems due to widespread insecurity and the poor conditions of local roads. Despite the challenges – which include a shortage of resources – WFP has managed to reach some 250,000 people displaced from the triangle with one-month rations during the past 12 months (April 2012 – April 2013).

Ten kilometers down a dirt road from the distribution site at Santé is the village of Mwashi. Dozens of huts made from branches and straw have sprung up on its edge. In one of them live Besa Mukalay and her four children.

They took everything

“We fled when our village was burned by the mayi-mayi in December”, she says. “We then went to another village called Mushima but they burned that too. They took everything including our bicycles so we came here.”

As she cooks fu-fu , a maize porridge made with WFP flour from that day’s distribution, Besa explains that they all sleep on the mud floor with just one mosquito net over them. She says the worst thing is not knowing when they can go home but hopes they will soon be able to do so. She may have reason for optimism – there were reports in April that some displaced people, particularly those from near Lake Mweru, had already started returning to their villages.