Tens of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are living in temporary accommodation and waiting for government help after the country experienced its worst flooding in six decades.
More than 300 people have died and 280,000 households in more than half the country have been forced to leave their homes since heavy rains started at the end of November. More than 1,500 schools, 267 health centres, 211 markets and 146 roads have been damaged.
In January, the government declared a hydrological and ecological catastrophe after the Congo River overflowed, flooding the capital, Kinshasa.
The country’s president, Félix Tshisekedi, who won his second term in office in December after a contested election, last week ordered ministers to deal with the crisis.
Last Saturday, the minister for humanitarian action, Modeste Mutinga Mutuishayi, was dispatched to oversee the distribution of blankets, pots and tents to 900 households in the capital.
But Jackson Lukungula, from Tshopo province in north-eastern DRC, said: “The government remains silent about this flooding. The government is yet to send people to affected provinces.
“We have a high school here in Kisangani which is overwhelmed. The government does not act. Many pupils are changing the way they travel to school because the usual streets are flooded.” He said a Catholic convent was under water “but the central government and the provincial government are not acting”.
Mado Ekembe, from Cité du Fleuve, a Kinshasa housing estate that lies along the banks of the Congo River, said she was not surprised at the inaction “because we always face flooding without getting help from the Congolese government”.
“Our wish is that authorities in our country act like those of neighbouring countries such as Republic of Congo, on the other side of the Congo River. When there is a disaster there, government agents turn up quickly; they brings food and essential items that will help affected people. But here, the authorities don’t do anything. We’ve never seen or heard from the government when such flooding hit us.”
At least 17 people have died and 320,000 people have been affected by flooding in the Republic of Congo, whose capital, Brazzaville, sits on the opposite riverbank from Kinshasa.
The chief of staff at DRC’s ministry of humanitarian affairs, Jackson Luneno, said people’s needs were still being assessed as water levels and impassable roads made it difficult for officials to visit many of the flooded areas. The ministry is also waiting for the treasury to sign off an emergency budget.
“Our challenge has also been money. We have a budget of 2bn [Congolese francs] this year,” Luneno said.
“Our humanitarian affairs’ management system is still in its infancy. We are working with UN agencies to design a humanitarian intervention system that will allow us to be always ready when disasters happen.”
Japan has donated tents, blankets and mattresses to the relief effort and China has given $100,000 (£78,000) in aid. “We hope others will follow once our teams finish identifying our country’s needs,” Luneno said.
The charity Médecins Sans Frontières has opened an emergency clinic in Kinshasa. So far it has treated 150 people for malaria and 65 for typhoid fever. “Some patients describe anxiety and suicide because they have lost everything,” said Dago Inagbe, MSF’s head of mission in Kinshasa.
Emmanuel Yaki, a 70-year-old retired mechanic from the capital’s Kinsuka-Pêcheurs neighbourhood, is selling pieces of wood and furniture that bob past his compound. “This week I sold a doorway for 23,000 francs. It was made of black wood. I grabbed it with a hook. I expect to sell wood and planks to traders.”
Most homes in Kinsuka-Pêcheurs were flooded. Yaki was able to save some of his belongings because his house is on two floors. “At the end of every year we experience some flooding, but this time it is too huge,” he said, picking up plastic bottles as they floated past his home.
Alice Shabani, 52, is hosting three families who have nowhere to live. “When I heard people screaming that water was invading their houses behind my plot [of land], I did not hesitate to welcome them into my house,” she said. “You feel like crying as though it has happened to you.”
Shabani said the water had reached the edge of her property, and worries her house could be damaged if more rain comes.