By Paul Moraga
Msunguti (DRC), May 12 (EFE).- In Kalehe, a region of fertile hills dotted with villages in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the gunfire was finally silenced last year after more than two decades of war. But while the bullets have stopped flying, malnutrition and malaria have taken over as the main threat to the local population.
Fighting between armed groups has devastated the town by the same name, leaving just a handful hospitals and no roads. The only way to reach villages there is over steep and uneven dirt tracks.
Akima Kasereka returned to her hometown in January after living in a camp for internally displaced persons for nearly three years.
“I had to leave my house because people were dying,” the 25-year-old farmer tells Efe.
“We couldn’t work in our gardens because it was too dangerous, so we couldn’t feed the children.
“In Bulambika, where we found a shelter, there were a lot of people from other places.”
Kasereka’s hometown has been mired in battles between Rwandan rebel groups, such as the National Council for Renewal and Democracy (CNRD), Mai-Mai Kirikicho, and Raia Mutomboki.
But since 2019, a series of intense military operations against the rebels operating in the area have caused many to put down their weapons or escape to remote spots.
“We no longer have to run or hear gunshots,” says Kasereka.
“We can sleep peacefully, without worrying. And we don’t have to hide in the woods with our children either. Now, what bothers us most are the diseases.”
Kasereka’s six-month-old son is sick. Doctors diagnosed him with acute malnutrition, so his mother often brings him to Msunguti health center.
Despite the fertility of the soil in Kalehe, the lack of fertilizers and agricultural machinery has forced millions in the DRC to eat just one meal a day.
Malnutrition-related diseases are common in the region, in addition to malaria and complications during labor and delivery, healthcare workers from Doctors without Borders (MSF) explain to Efe.
Sixteen percent of the population of the province of South Kivu, where the Kalehe territory is located, do not have enough food to stay healthy.
Eight months pregnant Françoise Tsherie hopes her child will be born in a different environment than the one she has to deal with.
“Too many people have died in this war, including many acquaintances here and there. We all witnessed that,” the 24-year-old says at the maternity ward of the hospital in the town of Tshigoma in Kalehe.
In 2003, the warring rebel groups signed agreements to put an end to the violence that broke out in 1998, but peace never came to pass.
According to a study by the Kivu Security Barometer (KST), the number of armed groups continued to grow to reach 122.
For Tsherie, this calm period in Kalehe is an opportunity for more positive change.