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DR Congo: Authorities visit affected villages, hand out coffins and aid to disaster victims

Victims of flooding in DR Congo being presented cash gifts (May 8 2023 )   -  
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Democratic Republic Of Congo

Representatives from the DR Congo government traveled to Nyamukubi and Bushushu, villages in the east of the country which were devastated by floods that killed more than 400 people in South Kivu.

They brought coffins and aid to disaster victims, according to an AFP team. In the community, this contribution from the government is described as "late", after hundreds of bodies were buried in mass graves

"These coffins arrived late. We would have liked for them to arrive in time, it was important because we have already buried people like pigs, putting 3, 5, 10, 40 people in the same hole. But hey, we can't help it, there are still bodies under the rubble that need to be found and maybe these coffins will be useful to bury them with honour." Roger Nabusike, a resident of Nyamukubi said

The Red Cross also alluded to the claim that many that died had already been buried.

"We buried them in mass graves, but in a dignified and secure manner. For us, we say a dignified and secure way: securing not by the nature of the grave, but securing for the protection of the community against anything that can happen as a result of these bodies which may be decaying. " John Kashinzwe, communication officer at the DRC Red Cross in South Kivu explained.

According to the UN humanitarian affairs bureau, some 3,000 families are still without shelter. The Congolese government assured the people of their commitment to rendering aid and support. Théo Ngwabidje Kasi, Governor of South Kivu region said "each affected family received more than one thousand dollars (USD)". "The hospitals are going to be saved and reinforced, we did it first at the local level and today we have relief (from the central government, editor's note), but that does not represent anything compared to the needs." Kasi added

On Monday, families and rescuers in the region continued the search for unknown numbers of people missing four days after the floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains.

Congolese government spokesman Patrick Muyaya confirmed the death toll provided by the administrator of Kalehe territory in South Kivu province, where villages have been destroyed and bodies found in Lake Kivu.

Muyaya put forward a figure of 401 deaths during a weekly press briefing on Monday but did not specify the number of missing people, which local authorities say could be in the hundreds.

"I have lost 12 relatives, I've buried five bodies so far and seven others cannot be found," Alpha Safari told AFP at Bushushu village.

"I am looking for them, I hope to find the bodies to bury them with dignity," he said.

A wall of mud that fell down the mountainside on Thursday evening covers part of the village where homes and people were swept away, some into the nearby lake.

Youngsters dig into the earth. One covers his face. Another dead body has been found.

"The search continues because there are a great deal of bodies under the devastation," a Red Cross worker said, asking not to be named.

"Every time we manage to demolish a house, we find bodies," he added, deploring the lack of proper equipment to carry out the work.

- 'No help' -

"There were seven children in the family, but I'm the only one left," said Darcein Bikanaba, another survivor at Bushushu. "My father and my mother have also gone and all my little brothers. "We have had no help up to now... We can't stay here, it's very dangerous."

OCHA detailed "immediate needs" including for "dignified and safe" burials as well as medical care, food aid and shelter. Emergency teams from the United Nations and national NGOs have been brought in, OCHA said. 

Greenpeace Africa noted that such disasters show "the necessity for the authorities to work on a national development plan focusing strongly on the risk of flooding in certain areas of the country". Experts say extreme weather events are happening with increased frequency and intensity due to climate change. Eastern DR Congo's disaster came two days after floods killed at least 131 people and destroyed thousands of homes in neighbouring Rwanda, on the other side of Lake Kivu.

On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on a visit to Burundi noted: "This is yet another illustration of accelerating climate change and its disastrous impact on countries that have done nothing to contribute to global warming."

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