Marie Mwenu Afua, 25, lost her three-year-old daughter to illness when she fled militia attacks on her village in Maniema province in February.
“My daughter had diarrhoea which was followed by a strong fever in the evening,” she says. “Afterwards, she started vomiting. And finally she collapsed in my arms at night.”
According to Mwenu, the sickness started after they had eaten raw cassava. They had been walking in the bush without food or clean water for several days.
Mwenu is among the 40,000 displaced people who were forced to flee their area in February and seek refuge in Punia following attacks by Raia Mutomboki rebels, a self-defense militia group.
“It was in the afternoon and it was raining heavily when I saw people running in all directions and shops closing in a hurry,” she says. ”Then I heard gunshots. I realized that the Raia Mutomboki had arrived. Immediately, my husband and I decided to follow the fleeing crowds with our three kids.”
Since mid-2012, fighting around a mining area on the border between North Kivu and Maniema provinces has forced more than 160,000 people to seek refuge in Maniema province.
Swimming across rivers
Mwenu took only some old clothes which she quickly abandoned when they had to swim across the Mbiaye river. They walked 125 kms from the mining town of Kasese to Punia, a journey which took them two weeks. To survive, they ate wild plants and fruits.
Back in their village, Mwenu was a farmer. She grew beans and maize and kept chickens. Her husband was a mine worker.
In Punia, they have been taken in by Mwenu’s aunt, Nafisa. They now live together in a small thatched house. To make ends meet, Mwenu collects firewood in the bush and sells it in the local market, earning 300 Congolese franc (less than half dollar), hardly enough to feed a family of four.
Poor transport infrastructure
WFP airlifted 20 metric tons of high energy biscuits from Goma to Punia in mid-February to assist Mwenu and the other displaced people who had arrived there. This amount, however, was only enough to feed 8, 000 of the most vulnerable for five days out of a total of 40,000 displaced people.
Heavy rains have made the unpaved roads impassable for large transport trucks – the usual means of delivering WFP food over long distances. Aircraft currently provide the only means of bringing supplies to the Punia area and WFP is planning another intervention to reach more of those in need.
Logistics and security constraints, however, are hindering the operation. There is no proper storage facility and the road from the airstrip to Punia town is a 12 kilometre-long muddy track. For transport, only two ancient rusty trucks are available but they frequently break down. Crucially, the security situation in the area remains volatile.
As Mwenu is aware, the only real solution to their suffering is an improvement in the security situation. Only peace will allow them to return home and resume their lives.