Homeless face nightmare in Congo's 'City of Hope'

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KINSHASA, Nov 28 (Reuters) Joseph Komba carries his frail neighbour out of a medical tent in the desolate camp near Kinshasa that has been their home for the past three weeks.

''She's been vomiting a lot. They gave me some medicine for her to take, but I don't know if that is going to help. There's no clean water here,'' Komba says as he lays the woman in the shade beside a shelter made of plastic sheeting.

Refugee camps are nothing new in Democratic Republic of Congo where fighting has forced more than 370,000 people from their homes in the eastern North Kivu province this year alone.

Now thousands of the capital's 8 million inhabitants are under threat from bad weather after heavy downpours razed hundreds of homes and killed more than 30 people in 24 hours.

Humanitarian Affairs Minister Jean-Claude Muyambo moved 5,000 people, some by force, to this site on the edge of the city earlier this month.

He plans to build 1,000 homes, schools, a medical clinic and even a shopping centre for Kinshasa's flood victims in a new neighbourhood, loftily named the ''City of Hope''.

''We are trying to give hope back to the Congolese people.

They've suffered so much, now we must be able to say to them 'Listen, with us, with our government, with our president, you can count on us','' Muyambo said.

The project's cost is put at 30 million dollar, no small amount for a country the size of Western Europe with a total budget this year of less than 2.5 billion dollar.

Funding has yet to be secured and little has been built.

HOPE, MONEY RUN SHORT For many of those loaded into trucks at the dead of night and driven to their new home on 54 treeless hectares, hope, like food and shelter, is in short supply.

''They promised us a site that was already finished. Look, there are only four houses finished, and those are taken by the army,'' says Komba who says he no longer has money to make the long trip into Kinshasa to find work.

Those lucky enough to have been allotted a plot of land live in tents made of plastic sheeting that the equatorial sun and rainy season transform into uninhabitable saunas by day.

Thousands more live in improvised shelters or on mattresses on the ground. Snakes bite them in their sleep.

''For the moment, there is no drinking water at the site and no latrines. So, inevitably, with this concentration of people, that can create problems,'' said Laurence Luyckfassel, a nurse with medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

''We warned that we are there for only a short period of four weeks. After four weeks we will leave here, and it's absolutely necessary that someone takes over.'' So far donors and aid agencies have shied away but Muyambo stands by his project.

''I'm sorry, we used force to move 30 per cent of them from where they were, because they were going to die.

''The next day, if you'd found them in the river, you would have said that we'd left them there, that we'd abandoned them,'' he said.

''This is not a life. What we are living here is the opposite of life,'' said a camp resident who asked not to be named because he feared reprisals from soldiers who guard the City of Hope.

REUTERS SW KP0846

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