The Star Malaysia - Star2
Eating snails to survive
Spates of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo drive villagers from their homes, and they are forced to leave everything behind – including crucial food crops. Now some are returning and facing the prospect of starving.
UNRELENTING violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo is fuelling one of the largest and most serious humanitarian crises in the world in which millions are forced from their homes and struggling to feed themselves.
Clashes have destroyed crops, while the grinding cycle of conflict and displacement has left many farmers unable to plant at all, forcing families to survive on whatever food they can forage.
In Mukambe, a remote village in the south-eastern province of Tanganyika, where inter-ethnic conflict has uprooted more than 650,000 people from their homes, families have resorted to eating mostly snails.
Roger, a resident of Mukambe (who does not want his full name used), says that snails are almost the only food he, his wife, and their six children have eaten for months. It takes days searching deep in the bush to find enough to feed them all.
“Our food situation is dire,” Roger says. “Nothing is normal. Everything is very hard. We are being forced to eat snails. It’s not normal for us. You have to really search for them.”
Further west, in Kasai Province, families are also struggling to feed themselves after fighting forced them from their homes – often to live deep in the bush. Even as they return to their villages, food shortages persist as they were not able to plant and do not have the resources to purchase food.
A woman named Ngalula, who
recently returned to her home in Kasai, says: “We fled from home to avoid being killed. We did not carry anything. We came back with nothing.”
For children, the situation is particularly critical. Nurse Therese Baswa is in charge of a nutrition programme at a health centre in the village of Tshikaji that saw more than 300 malnourished children between May 2017 and January 2018.
“We receive a lot of cases of malnutrition because of the many changes when the people fled,” Baswa says. “They left everything behind.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), together with farming associations, is helping farmers to plant again by providing seeds, tools, and land given by local chiefs. Ngalula is one of them. “All these people are from Bupole Association. We work as a group to fight the famine in Kasai Central.”
The United Nations estimates that more than 4.6 million Congolese children are acutely malnourished – 2.2 million of them severely acute, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition. Last year, escalating violence in the DR Congo drove the highest recorded number of new displacements in the world. More than four million people in the country are estimated to be internally displaced – the highest on the continent.