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Nsimire’s story: landslides in DRC

One woman’s very personal account of the recent flooding and landslides in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 02 Jun 2023

Nsimire sits in the shade of a wall next to the children's playground where she and other survivors of the flooding and landslides in DRC have been forced to camp after having lost their homes.

Nsimire Kaliri survived the landslides and flooding in Democratic Republic of Congo, but she lost her home, her farm and her son. Credit: Nehemie Babikana/Tearfund


Warning: Some readers may find this story upsetting.

On a Thursday evening at the beginning of May, Nsimire Kaliri in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) lost her home, one of her sons, and her feelings of hope. It was 5.30pm on 4 May when sudden, unexpectedly heavy rain came. It caused the river nearby Nsimire’s house to burst its banks and resulted in flooding and landslides that reduced much of the once-vibrant village of Bushushu, Kalehe, to rubble and debris. Across the region, more than 400 people were killed and tens of thousands have been left homeless by the disaster.

The context of climate crisis

This and similar situations (also in May) in neighbouring Rwanda, as well as in Myanmar and Bangladesh, have been linked to the effects of climate change leading to increasingly extreme weather events. 

A report released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on 22 May stated that ‘weather, climate and water-related events caused 11,778 reported disasters between 1970 and 2021, with just over 2 million deaths and US$ 4.3 trillion in economic losses.’

It further showed that the number of disasters had increased significantly over that period and that the cost of these – both financial and in loss of lives – disproportionately affected people living in countries that were already struggling with high levels of poverty.

WMO Secretary-General, Professor Petteri Taalas, is quoted as saying: ‘The most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards.’ 

Nsimire is one of those paying the price of climate change. This is her story.

Nsimire’s story 

‘We used to have a big farm in Buguli, [near Bushushu],’ says Nsimire, ‘but we lost it when a large quantity of water and rocks came from the mountain and devastated the area. It washed everything into the lake.’

Nsimire and her family came from Panzi in the east of DRC originally. After the violent conflict that has been plaguing much of that region reached their area, they moved to Kalehe to find work. She explains, ‘I was living there, on our farm, some years ago when the armed groups came to that place. They took my cows. They took my goats. And we had to move. When we came here, my children and I bought some land. We built good houses and we were living happily. We lived peacefully, without any problem.’ 

But then, this further, unexpected tragedy came.

Darker and darker

‘It felt like it was getting darker and darker,’ says Nsimire. ‘It started raining heavily. My son came running to me, telling me to get all of the children out of the house. He grabbed me and pulled me out of the compound. He had to break the gate for us to get out and I found myself in the middle of a road which was full of water!

‘A few metres along, a big house fell next to us. It almost injured my leg – it was that close. My son picked me up and carried me to safety on the other side.’

Where are the children?

Nsimire remembers the panic of escaping the flooding. She says, ‘I asked my son, “Are all the children safe?” He said, “Yes, they are all safe.”

‘“What about your brother? Willy. Where’s Willy?” He said he had no information about Willy. All he knew was that he had warned Willy – that he had told him to close his shop and run. No further news.

‘I was so shaken – I was trembling so much and I had a terrible headache.

‘When he told me that he couldn’t find his brother, I felt broken and very weak.

‘At 11am, I told my children, “We still haven’t seen Willy. All the other young people are around. It is possible that your brother may be dead.”’

Mud covers the remains of houses destroyed by flooding and landslides in DRC, 4 May 2023

‘If you walk around you would think it’s a farm that has been ploughed for planting, but these were all homes. Homes that nobody managed to rescue any of their belongings from.’ – Nsimire, flood survivor, Bushushu, DRC. Credit: Nehemie Babikana/Tearfund

The aftermath of the flooding and landslides

Nsimire had still not heard anything further about her son at the time she spoke to us. She described the aftermath of the flooding and landslides. 

‘Some people came to help us get the bodies out of the rubble,’ she says. 

‘There were so many bodies. So many. The majority were grandmothers. And the number of little children was simply countless.

‘Those people started pulling the bodies out at 11am. They carried on past midnight and continued through to the morning. They carried on for another full day... Still pulling out bodies.

‘Unfortunately, there was still no trace of our son – not even amongst the bodies.

‘My neighbour lost ten children and they have not found the bodies. Another neighbour lost 11 children – with no trace of any of them. Another neighbour lost 16 members of the same household.’

‘There were so many bodies. So many. The majority were grandmothers. And the number of little children was simply countless.’
Nsimire, disaster survivor, DRC

Facing the loss

Unsurprisingly, along with everything else it has destroyed, the disaster has taken an emotional toll as well. 

‘We can’t get our heads around this situation,’ says Nsimire, ‘it’s too much. As I sit here, I don’t know what to think. My mind is empty. I can’t find a way to understand this or make sense of it.

‘My husband died when my children were very young – leaving me responsible for them. And they have grown up well – not like orphans.

‘But now they are dying – one by one. The first one died, now this second one was responsible for taking care of the whole family. And now he is dead too. I don’t know what to do with all the tears in my eyes right now.

‘When I look at the photo of him looking healthy and very well-dressed and very handsome – I feel like it would have been better for me to die rather and my children all survive.

‘We are in a very difficult situation here. And I am not the only one affected.’

Only mud where once there were homes

‘If you walk around you would think it’s a farm that has been ploughed for planting [because there is nothing but mud], but these were all homes. Homes that nobody managed to rescue any of their belongings from. 

‘[When the flooding came] we all left our houses, not worrying about money or material possessions. Only saving our lives counted. All that is not the important thing – houses and money… they can be replaced. But what about our people? Our family members who have died… We are mourning our people. Losing houses and clothes is not such a big problem. But lives count.

‘We are shedding tears.’

‘I don’t know what to do with all the tears in my eyes right now.’
Nsimire, disaster survivor, DRC

Living like refugees

The situation is a tragedy that is difficult to comprehend. Now, having lost her home, her son, the farm that provided for her family, and so many members of her community, Nisimire, along with others, has taken temporary shelter in a playground area.

She says, ‘Now we are here, living as refugees without any shelter when we used to have houses. We were respected people, but now we are downcast.

‘I am not only crying for myself – there are so many people affected by this tragedy. We have nothing. We don’t know where to start or where to end. Our life here in Kalehe was everything we had – everything we had was invested here…

‘There is so much sadness right now. This place where we are living now is a children’s playground. A person can’t be expected to live in these conditions.’

A local map of Bushushu village, DRC, which was largely destroyed by flooding and landslides in May 2023

A map of Bushushu as it was before floods and landslides destroyed much of the village. Credit: Nehemie Babikana/Tearfund

Extreme disasters

Nsimire is one of many tens of thousands of people in DRC, Rwanda and in Myanmar and Bangladesh who lost everything during May and are completely reliant on the kindness of neighbours, the intervention of their governments and the support of external agencies, like Tearfund, to help them get back on their feet. 

Robbed of their houses, family members and livelihoods by the sudden devastation of natural disasters, they will need to rebuild their homes and lives from the ground up.

A way to survive

‘We have already lost our children,’ says Nsimire, ‘so we will find a way to survive ourselves.’

Please will you join us in prayer for people like Nsimire as they find a way to survive. And please give to support the work that Tearfund does to help people facing disaster and extreme poverty in situations like this all around the world. 

Pray for people who have faced disaster

    • Lift up people like Nsimire who are facing the grief of losing loved ones and the overwhelming sadness of experiencing such traumatic situations. Ask God for comfort and for peace that passes understanding for their minds and hearts.
    • Pray for all those who have lost homes and livelihoods and who may be feeling hopeless at the prospect of having to start all over again. Ask God for provision and for grace to continue.
    • Bring before God the desperate situation of our world’s climate. Ask him to intervene – both through changing the minds and behaviours of people all around the world and also through his mighty healing power. 

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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