Shabunda: the ‘forgotten Kosovo’
Summary of article*
An example of the 'Silent Emergencies' phenomenon is the situation in Shabunda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC is in the grip of nine individual conflicts. More than 2.5 million people have died, an estimate limited to figures available from areas where NGOs are based. Isolated and cut-off regions are forgotten. Currently only one international NGO is active in Shabunda, a particularly isolated region of DRC. Located in the extreme east of the country, it is 3,500 km from the capital. Conflict is widespread with many living in perpetual fear and insecurity. Thousands have taken refuge in jungle areas or towns like Bukavu, while others have been forced to join armed bands.
Throughout Shabunda, traditional subsistence agriculture is at a standstill, livestock rearing has been decimated and fisheries have been destroyed. People are living off tubers and manioc, and marasmus and kwashiorkor are endemic. Although Shabunda is extremely rich in mineral resources, their exploitation is monopolised by the Great Lakes Mining Company, an operation set up by one of the areas rebel groups.
Rates of morbidity and mortality have increased rapidly over the past few years with four out of five children dying before the age of five. There is only limited access to primary health care with each health centre serving a population of some 35,000 people. Illnesses that had been eradicated, such as smallpox and chicken pox, have reappeared. Widespread rape of young women and children is so high that HIV infection is rampant. There are approximately fifty dispensaries for 1.5 million people and only 5% of children have access to education.
The article questions why Shabunda has been forgotten and suggests the following reasons;
- those in power in the territory wish the emergency to remain unknown because this allows them to continue to exploit the territories mineral wealth in secret
- insecurity has made relief work very difficult
- donors do not consider the region to be of direct strategic interest or threat, so that the scale and complexity of the crisis do not warrant the expenditure that would be needed to make a difference.
*Shabunda: the 'forgotten Kosovo' Charles Mampasu Humanitarian Exchange 20, March 2002. www.odihpn.org
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 16, August 2002