Monday, May 15, 2023

by Pierre Lokeka

Misfortune never comes alone, they say. The DR Congo, particularly its eastern part, has continued to suffer and count deaths every day for a decade. We are talking about more than 5 million deaths following repeated wars whose victims are peaceful populations, not to mention famine, insecurity, displacement of populations fleeing wars, monetary inflation, etc. And there is also the problem of climate change: unprecedented rain has just fallen in South Kivu, and the territory of Kalehe has not been spared. This heavy rain and the erosion that followed left more than 453 dead and more than 5,000 missing (provisional report). Houses, churches, shopping centres and markets were swept into Lake Kivu. Entire families have disappeared, sometimes leaving behind a child or a parent who, outside their home during the disaster, found themselves rescued.

Testimonies from survivors make people tremble with horror: this man experienced the death of his children, carried away one after another by the water when he wanted to save them. He was holding 2 of them by the arm, one on his back and the other on his neck. The first was caught in the water, even telling him: "I know I'm going to die, Dad, but take my brothers to safety!” Soon, the other child clinging to his arm was washed away, while screaming. His brother, on his father's neck, was alerted by the cries of distress and turned around, lost his balance, finally falling into the water and being swept away. The father, using his hand to hold on to what he could so as not to be swept away, ended up climbing over stones to the top, thinking the child on his back was safe, but unfortunately the child was already drowned in the water he was swallowing. From the top, he watched the houses and people swept into the lake by erosion. When the rain subsided, he went back to his house to see what was left of it, but he only found the inert bodies of his wife and the younger brother who had returned from the market and found themselves buried under the house that crashed down on them.

The mud carried away by erosion is 3m high, and the absence of machinery makes it difficult to search for bodies. The boat is the only option to reach the areas affected by the disaster, as all roads are blocked.

At the Kitumaini Centre, not being far from disasters, we decided with the 1200 women we accompany to plant trees (agroforestry) around our fields and our houses, but also as a sign of our participation, however minimal it is, to the efforts of the whole community to fight against climate change. The images of the surrounding areas make it possible to understand how bodies or objects not brought into the lake were recovered at the foot of the trees that constituted obstacles. We plan to plant around 25 to 30 thousand trees by October. This effort will continue according to the means available, so as to raise awareness among farmers and make plants available to them in the region.

For the record, since 2021, we have already planted more than 22,000 trees. 

Prevention is better than cure, they say! This is why we decided to give its place to the tree given all its benefits for our life, so fragile without them.