The houses without a roof, the trees without a trunk, broken chairs and half buried in the quagmire, the hundreds of bodies to be identified, shared traumas. Everything is covered in a sticky mud in the affected localities due to the floods caused by the rains in South Kivu (Democratic Republic of the Congo) since Thursday of last week. Debris scattered along the roads like stone seeds, tears that do not come off the sweat of the faces. The official figure has risen in the last twenty-four hours to close to four hundred fatalities in the territory of Kahele, on the shores of Lake Kivu. It’s a long way from the 176 counted last Fridayalthough the images shared to the media raise fears that the death toll will continue in the coming days.
The rainy season has hit hard in Rwanda and in the eastern Republic of the Congo. The clayey soil has not been able to support the weight of the water and the last week has consisted of a succession of floods and large landslides: thousands of houses have been destroyed in both countries, taking their occupants with them. In Rwanda, an estimated five thousand homes destroyed and 130 deaths from the catastrophe; in Congo, the numbers keep increasing.
The rainy season, which began in March and will end this month of May, has brought deception on this occasion. The Nyamukubi and Chishova rivers swelled more than they should. The force of the floods swept away the homes but also the fences that delimit the land, the flag poles of the schools, the bars and food stores, stables and bus stops, entire towns that now raise their hands to their heads as they look at their water-disordered landmarks. Something like this has happened in the town of Nyamukubi, on the banks of the river of the same name and where hundreds of homes evaporated in a few minutes. The locals do not know how to distinguish now which are the lands of each one; where before there was a rock or a tree that determined ownership of one or the other, now they look at stumps of earth that bleed the color of mud.
Much more than climate change
A member of the Bakenge local government told the AP that “this is the fourth time that the same rivers have caused this damage. Not ten years go by without them doing enormous damage.” In contrast to the words of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, where he limited himself to blaming what happened “on climate change for what happened”, the reality is that the floods in the Congo have been happening for as long as the rivers can remember. In 1908, 1962 and 1999, for example, two overflows occurred in the river that gives its name to this nation.causing the death of hundreds of people and the displacement of tens of thousands.
As is the case in Nigeria or Senegal, the problem does not come exclusively from climate change, but from poor quality homes built with sheet metal, wood and cheap bricks that are incapable of withstanding the fury of a flood. The drainage systems set up in the urban centers, of an equally mediocre quality, do not facilitate the management of the periodic floods that follow the rainy season.
The lack of resources of the Congolese government to deal with the crisis has led to burying the victims in mass graves, a scene that has outraged the local population. The photographs of the victims packed in gray bags and carefully stacked have crossed the country, which will hold its general elections this December.
It should be remembered that the inhabitants of eastern DRC are immersed not only in this deluge, but also in a prolonged conflict motivated by natural resources and that has brought soldiers from dozens of countries to the area to combat the presence of more than 130 armed groups, including the M-23 (a Tutsi militia financed by Rwanda), CODECO (a group belonging to the Lendu ethnic group that murdered 85 people in the month of April alone) and affiliates of the Islamic State. The area affected by the floods also has the intervention of Pakistani blue helmets integrated into MONUSCO, the United Nations mission in the country, and is close to the coveted coltan mines near the city of Goma.
The President of the Congolese Government has declared a day of national mourning for the victims.