Congo: hidden tragedy unfolding

 While the eyes of the world have been on the atrocities happening in Bunia, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, hunger and human rights abuses continue to occur throughout eastern DRC, well hidden from the attention of the rest of the world - Christian Aid reports. The territory of Walungu in south Kivu has been, since April, at the centre of a massive offensive launched by RCD, backed by Rwanda, against the positions of the militias of Mudundu 40 and other armed groups. Villages have been burnt down, homes have been looted, women raped and total populations forced to flee. The population of Walungu has tripled with the influx of displaced people. In the Walungu hospital, Dr Jean Mukenga is in despair. His wards are crowded with severely malnourished children and adults. Bulangalire M'Bihembe, aged six, is one of his patients. He is suffering from kwashiorkor, a severe form of malnutrition caused by protein deficiency. As a result, his hair has turned orange and his stomach is swollen to the size of a football. He is the size of a two-year-old. When the fighting started his mother Josephine fled their hometown with her six children. They spent five weeks in the forest before health workers, who were alarmed by her son's condition, sent her to Walungu. The hospital still receives supplies of fortified milk from an international NGO. "It is a serious crisis and it is getting worse," says Dr Mukenga. "As usual, the children are the innocent victims." Bugeme Casinga, standing at the end of the ward, hugs his shirt around his emaciated body. His collarbone stands out and his skin is stretched tightly across ribs. He looks embarrassed. "I spent a month in the forest," he says. "I had nothing to eat, I ate what I could find." Casinga looks at the most 16, he tells me shyly that he is 22. The continuing war in south Kivu is direct cause of this malnutrition. Women are fearful of going to the fields and militias destroy crops. Even if there were crops, it is often impossible to reach markets. Food production in the region is down to 10 per cent of what it was in the pre-war years and it's estimated that more than 65 per cent of the population is malnourished. Christian Aid partners are alarmed by the upsurge in fighting and human rights abuses. They are more particularly concerned by the increase of groups of armed men. "In Bunia you had many militias," says one human rights worker. "Here we have all the elements for several Bunias here. We will do better than Bunia." The growing number of militias has a ready supply of young men and boys. As schools have been destroyed, young boys have nowhere to go, leaving them an easy prey for marauding militias. In eastern Congo, the various militias all benefit from outside support. Unless this outside support is removed, the many parties in this conflict will remain more interested in plunder and personal vendettas than in the plight of civilian populations. Source: Christian Aid

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