by Ambra Visentin

As the conflict in Congo intensifies, heavy rains and flooding have already killed more than 300 people in the region. Some 1.8 million people have been affected by flooding. With limited access to water and sanitation, there is a risk of a cholera epidemic. With sanitation facilities already overwhelmed, the influx of displaced people increases the risk of the disease spreading along the road to Goma and into neighbouring IDP settlements. Flood areas are responsible for 40% of all cholera cases in the country. According to the WHO, more than 52,400 cholera cases and 462 deaths were recorded in the DRC in 2023. These are figures that make it one of the most serious epidemics in the world.

The humanitarian situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has reached critical levels. According to current estimates, more than 200,000 people have been displaced from the town of Sake and surrounding settlements in North Kivu province as a result of recent violence. This brings the total number of displaced people in the country to more than six million. The influx of displaced people in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, is already overwhelming existing resources. Food prices have risen due to the disruption of transport routes. Even before the conflict, more than 2.8 million children in the DRC suffered from severe malnutrition. They are now facing severe restrictions on education and health care. Some 1.1 million children and 605,000 women are severely malnourished, with children under five and pregnant and lactating women at particular risk. In addition, refugee women and girls are often at risk of gender-based violence. The number of women and girls affected has steadily increased since the escalation of violence in 2023.

The conflict in eastern Congo dates back to the Second Congo War, from 1998 to 2003, and is fuelled by various national, regional and local interests and claims. Outside the national government, in the capital Kinshasa, there are an estimated 100 rebel groups and armed gangs fighting for influence and access to natural resources.

The Congolese government accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebels. The issue has been the subject of several reports by UN experts. This week, the United States again condemned ‘Rwanda’s support for M23’ (one of the strongest and most notorious rebel groups) and called on Rwanda to withdraw all its soldiers and remove its anti-aircraft missile systems from the country. For Kigali, the causes lie instead in the poor governance of Kinshasa, which it holds responsible for the violence in eastern Congo. In a recent press conference, President Paul Kagame also emphasised how his country would recently benefit more from raw materials from its neighbouring country if there was peace and order across the border.

The recent escalation in fighting is also linked to a change in the regional intervention force. Late last year, President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi ended the mandate of an East African force after accusing it not only of inaction but also of colluding with the rebels. It has now been replaced by a South African-led Southern African Development Community (SADC) force, which is supposed to be ‘neutral’.

Cover image by on Flickr

More on the conflict here