Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have ordered the partial evacuation of a disputed island in Lake Albert, where health workers are unable to tackle a cholera outbreak partly because of security concerns linked to the discovery of oil.
“We have just ordered the section head and police on the ground to evacuate children and the elderly” from Rukwanzi island, which lies on a poorly-defined border separating DRC and Uganda, said Dieudonne Rwabona, acting district commissioner in DRC’s northeastern region of Ituri.
Since 5 October police on the island have reported 57 cases of cholera and three fatalities.
“Things are getting worse. Just in the last two days we registered six cholera cases. Since there is no healthcare infrastructure, we treat the sick ourselves with our own first aid medicines,” a police commander on the island said on 12 November.
“They don’t have access to [clean] water or healthcare where they are. Those who develop diarrhoea are told to take a boat to Tchomia, a lakeside town where there is an isolation ward,” said Eustace Kyroussis from the World Health Organization in Bunia, Ituri’s main town.
Rukwanzi, with an area of 12 sqkm, is home to about 3,000 people, mostly fisherman and their families. The recent discovery of oil under Lake Albert has exacerbated the territorial dispute. Troops from DRC and Uganda exchanged gunfire near the island in August and, despite a fence-mending meeting between their respective presidents, again in September.
|We go to the toilet in the lake, which we also use for drinking and showering|
“It’s an island that shouldn’t really be habitable,” said Kyroussis.
“We go to the toilet in the lake, which we also use for drinking and showering,” Augustin Mapendo, a former resident of the island, told IRIN in Bunia.
The September skirmish took place when a DRC patrol ship, together with troops from the UN mission in DRC, intercepted seven people who had travelled from the Ugandan side of the lake to prospect on the Congolese side.
“They were arrested for questioning. Uganda sent their troops to free them. Unfortunately they attacked a civilian vessel from Rukwanzi, killing seven civilians,” said Rwabona.
Since 5 October, Congolese police have been deployed on the island as part of efforts to demilitarise the zone in line with undertakings made during the meeting between Presidents Joseph Kabila of DRC and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.