4th July 2020

Environment Coronavirus in DR Congo captured on camera

Environment Coronavirus in DR Congo captured on camera

Environment

A collaborative online project is documenting the challenges facing the Democratic Republic of Congo as it tackles Covid-19, measles and Ebola in 2020.

environment Vendors and shoppers at Kituku market on the shores of Lake Kivu in GomaImage copyright
Moses Sawasawa for Fondation Carmignac

Congo in Conversation is a website that chronicles the country’s human, social and ecological challenges in the current health crisis.

A stream of articles, photo reports and videos will be uploaded to the site from journalists and photographers based in DR Congo, many of whom are Congolese.

The website was produced by Foundation Carmignac and the Canadian-British photographer Finbarr O’Reilly.

The Foundation Carmignac provides a grant each year to an individual who will produce work that focuses on topical issues such as human rights and the environment.

O’Reilly was awarded the 11th Carmignac Photojournalism Award. As part of the award, the photographer planned to produce a photo report on DR Congo in 2020.

But as borders closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, he and the Award team had to rethink how to report on the country. This led to the Congo in Conversation website.

environment A person wears Covid-19 protective overalls and maskImage copyright
Justin Makangara for Fondation Carmignac

Image caption

A member of the Covid-19 response wears protective equipment at the entrance to a building in the Gombe commune of DR Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. The responders were at the main entrance of the building to raise awareness among apartment residents about social distancing and to take the temperature of anyone entering or leaving the building, where there are around 75 families and offices.

environment A street scene showing shoppers in DR Congo's capital KinshasImage copyright
Justin Makangara for Fondation Carmignac

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A street scene in Kinshasa. Congolese authorities closed schools and shut down major commercial activities to enforce social distancing in a country where many people weren’t taking precautions and didn’t believe the virus was a threat to them during the early days of the pandemic.

Coordinating the project from London, O’Reilly is working with journalistic colleagues in cities in DR Congo to curate videos, photos and stories that will be shared on the website.

“For too long, stories from Africa have been told by outsiders and that has often reflected their kind of colonial attitude and reinforces a lot of the kind of infrastructural and racial biases that people can bring to storytelling,” says O’Reilly.

“Thankfully, that started to change over the last few years as more and more African journalists use platforms to tell their own stories in their own voices, and share their ideas and perspectives.”

Much of the country is under lockdown, but millions of Congolese rely on the informal economy to survive and live life on the margins with little to no social safety net.

environment A market in DR Congo's capital KinshasaImage copyright
Justin Makangara for Fondation Carmignac

Image caption

A market in DR Congo’s capital Kinshasa.

“Since the declaration of the first case of Covid-19 in the DR Congo, prejudices and false information have been circulating about the virus in the capital Kinshasa,” says Justin Makangara, one of the Congolese photographers.

“One of the most widespread beliefs is that Covid-19 is a ‘disease of the rich’.

“In the megalopolis of Kinshasa, several prejudices have developed, including the stigmatisation of certain minorities with statements such as ‘the Coronavirus is a punishment from God to the LGBT community’.

“Nevertheless, efforts are being made in the fight against the pandemic despite the socio-economic crisis the country is going through, with the production of masks made of wax fabrics and charities developing here and there to support the most vulnerable.”

environment Vendors and shoppers at Kituku market on the shores of Lake KivuImage copyright
Moses Sawasawa for Fondation Carmignac

Image caption

Vendors and shoppers at Kituku market on the shores of Lake Kivu in Goma, eastern DR Congo (above and below). Many Congolese survive on their daily earnings and cannot afford to follow health advice on maintaining social distance.

Street vendors, traders and motorcycle-taxi drivers rely on what they earn for the day and frequently lack property or savings.

According to the UN, nearly half of all workers throughout the African continent could lose their jobs.

environment Vendors and shoppers at Kituku market on the shores of Lake KivuImage copyright
Moses Sawasawa for Fondation Carmignac

Image caption

Vendors and shoppers at Kituku market on the shores of Lake Kivu.

environment Vendors at a street market in GomaImage copyright
Ley Uwera for Fondation Carmignac

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Vendors at a street market in Goma.

“As a young Congolese photographer, I am proud to play an active role in the fight against this global pandemic,” said contributor Moses Sawasawa.

“[Congo in Conversation] provides an outlet for me to forget the precarious political situation that has affected my province for more than a decade and to prove to the whole world that, despite the war, young Congolese people possess many talents.

“To me, a positive of this pandemic is that I can truly show what the population is going through in this period of crisis as well as highlight the precarious economic and social situation my country is experiencing.”

environment Stores seen closed in the eveningImage copyright
Justin Makangara for Fondation Carmignac

Image caption

It is Sunday, 5 April at 9.05pm. Gombe is preparing for its 14-day lockdown. The grocery stores and shops are already closed and this part of the busy city is empty of its regulars. Gombe is the administrative centre of Kinshasa, the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic in DR Congo.

environment An empty classroomImage copyright
Justin Makangara for Fondation Carmignac

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An empty classroom in Kinshasa after Congolese authorities closed schools.

Covid-19 is not the only outbreak of disease which DR Congo is currently grappling with.

Since January 2019, more than 6,500 children have died from measles in the country, and 335,000 others have been infected, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data.

Over the past 18 months, the country has been dealing with the second-worst Ebola epidemic in history – 3,453 cases and 2,273 deaths.

environment A Red Cross burial worker shows a man how to put on protective glovesImage copyright
Finbarr O’Reilly for Fondation Carmignac

Image caption

A Red Cross burial worker shows a man how to put on protective gloves.

“If you take a look at the youth of the country, they are taking matters into their own hands,” says O’Reilly.

“They’re not accepting poor governance or human rights abuses that are very common.”

environment Neighbours and Red Cross burial workers in protective clothing gather outside a homeImage copyright
Finbarr O’Reilly for Fondation Carmignac

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Neighbours and Red Cross burial workers in protective clothing gather outside the home of a family where an 11-month-old girl has died during Congo’s Ebola outbreak in the town of Rutshuru in North Kivu province.

“[The youth are] taking on roles that a government normally should, in terms of educating the population about health concerns and how to prevent catching Covid-19.

“And because of Congo’s experience with Ebola virus, it is in some ways quite well prepared for dealing with another viral problem.”

environment Neighbours and Red Cross burial workers in protective clothing gather outside a homeImage copyright
Finbarr O’Reilly for Fondation Carmignac

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Red Cross workers prepare to bury the girl in Rutshuru.

environment The Red Cross burial workers carry a box containing the body of an 11-month-old girlImage copyright
Finbarr O’Reilly for Fondation Carmignac

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The coffin of the Ebola victim is carried away.

All photographs courtesy Congo in Conversation

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