YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Catholic bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, visited by Pope Francis in late January and early February, say that recent deadly floods simply have added to a long list of the country’s woes, including armed conflict and wanton mineral and forest exploitation.
Tragic floods in the country’s violence-scarred eastern region so far have claimed at least 411 lives. Torrential downpours caused rivers to burst their banks, resulting in floods and mudslides that swept away homes, farmland, and livestock, leaving communities in ruins.
According to provincial governor Theo Kasi, the Bushushu and Nyamukubi villages in South Kivu’s Kalehe region were all but destroyed. With more than 5,500 individuals still unaccounted for, the death toll is expected to rise.
Catholic bishops in the country now say the tragic floods have added to their sorrow.
“It is with great emotion and sadness that we received the sad news of the disasters caused by the torrential rains that have fallen in recent days on the Province of South Kivu, especially in the Territory of Kalehe, causing loss of life and significant material damage,” the bishops said in a May 8 statement.
“This misfortune adds to our sorrow at a time when we are very worried about the worrying social and security situation in the Provinces of North Kivu and Ituri,” said the statement signed by Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa, Archbishop of Kisangani, on behalf of the country’s bishops’ conference.
In a separate statement sent to Crux, the Justice and Peace Commission of the archdiocese of Bukavu lamented that the once-vibrant villages of Kalehe, Bushushu, Nyamukubi, Chabondo, Kabushungu have been “cruelly devastated.”
“Nature became angry and took vengeance without mercy,” the statement says.
“Entire villages were flattened, wiped off the map. Men and women of all ages, sizes and occupations have ended up in the lake and others lie still in deserted streets that have become their mortuaries …The earth on which we walk has become our graveyard.”
“This catastrophe is like a revenge of the spirits that inhabit the lakes and forests. One has never seen such a quantity of mud in a short time! Never have we seen so much anger against us. Sacrifices must be made or the guilty must be punished.”
The statement wonders further why once-peaceful nature could suddenly become so violent. It talks about the “little stream” which had never swept away a chicken and wonders why that stream has become “murderous.”
“Where does it get its strength from? It lifts stones and hills. But how is this possible? Then we must find a cause and a culprit.”
And the culprit, the statement explains, is man’s wanton destruction of the environment.
“Uprooting a tree is digging your own grave…” the statement notes, before explaining that wanton deforestation in the Congo Basin Forest could be at the origin of the disaster.
“Because of the search for easy money, entire forests, even fruit trees, are cut down for fuel wood… cut down to make charcoal. Who can count the number of bags of charcoal consumed in this province per day? Who can estimate the surface area of the forest cut down daily for household cooking?”
“We are all co-responsible for our misfortune,” the statement says. It complained about the “columns of trucks” which “carry the charcoal before the helpless gaze of everyone else. Everyone criticizes, gets indignant and it all stops there.”
“The consequences are before our eyes and if nothing is done in the long term, we will only have eyes to cry…”
“May the land of our ancestors be merciful to our dead, torn from our love on the day we least expected.”
The country’s bishops expressed “fraternal closeness and solidarity [with] His Excellency Archbishop François-Xavier Maroy, Archbishop of Bukavu, as well as to all the people of God who live in this region. With them, we share the sufferings of all those seriously affected,” the bishops said.
They called on the Congolese government and humanitarian organizations to come to the aid of “the victims of these catastrophes.”
“May our brothers and sisters who are in these areas affected by the floods and landslides be reassured of our compassion and our prayers.”
“Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, may the Risen Lord bind up the wounds of the injured and give courage and hope to all those who have lost their possessions. May he console the bereaved families and grant eternal rest to the victims,” the clerics said.
The floods come just days after deadly floods swept through neighboring Rwanda, killing at least 130 people, sweeping away farmlands and flattening essential infrastructure. Six people were also killed in Uganda as a result of floods.
Experts have connected climate change to the devastating floods. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that the world will surpass the 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold by 2030 and that extreme precipitation will increase by 7 percent for every additional degree of warming.
Dr. Richard Munang, Deputy Regional Director of the United Nations Environment Program’s Africa Office, says the world has already warmed by 1.1 degree Celsius, and Africa is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world.
There have been up to 1.7 degree Celsius temperature increases in East Africa, Munang said. This indicates that the effects of global warming, which include severe events like extreme precipitation, will only get worse, he said.
According to World Bank predictions, the climate catastrophe would force 86 million Africans to relocate within their own nations by 2050.