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Hatred and hunger in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa's troubled heart

  • Video report by ITV News Africa Correspondent John Ray

From the air, it doesn't look a land where anyone should go hungry.

An ocean of green, effortlessly fertile and just as rich in resources below the soil.

Down the road there are diamond mines – but all around us there is misery.

This is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the huge, troubled heart of Africa.

Down the road are diamond mines, but all around there is misery Credit: ITV News

In a hospital with no power and no water we meet Dr Elvis Kumbu, quietly performing miracles.

A worried father brings in his latest challenge - a three-year-old boy named Mbiya.

There's not much more to him than skin and bones and frightened eyes in a shrunken face.

"Another few days, and we wouldn't be able to help," the doctor tells me.

  • The DRC's decades of conflict explained

Many children arrive here in time only to die – and the numbers suffering severe acute malnutrition are rising.

"They walk for months, they have no shelter and the parents have no food for their children," Oscar Butragueno, Unicef emergency co-ordinator tells me as we watch hungry children being assessed and provided basic nutrition.

We're in the Kasai region – an area the size of Germany – for the past 18 months riven by a conflict that is, worryingly to all observers, taking an increasingly tribal and ethnic dimension.

One and half million people have been forced from their homes and farms.

That accounts for the hunger. But it doesn’t explain the hatred.

The sisters told how their family fell into the hands of an armed group Credit: ITV News

In a safe house, we meet three sisters, whose family fell into the hands of one of the armed groups that - alongside government forces they are fighting - is blamed for countless atrocities.

The oldest recounts her story with the detachment of the truly traumatised.

First they killed her father.

She was hiding, but sneaked out to see the appalling fate of her mother and brothers.

"We were captured by the militia. They took us to our house, together with my family.

"I saw my two brothers decapitated. Then my mother," she tells me.

"They made me carry her head to the village where they had their base. It was 60 kilometres [away]."

The oldest sister recounted the appalling fate of her mother and brothers Credit: ITV News

It's 15 years since the end of a war that cost a million or more lives in the Congo.

Many observers fear the country maybe slipping back into the abyss.

Away from Kasai, there are equally brutal conflicts in the east and north east.

These are local disputes, but all underpinned by the waning authority of President Joseph Kabila, whose term in office should have expired more than a year ago.

Elections are scheduled for December, but in the meantime the chaos only deepens.

According to the UN, almost four and half million people have been forced from their homes.

In the DRC there are many hungry mouths but not enough to go around Credit: ITV News

DRC has been declared a "Level 3" crisis – on a par with the humanitarian disasters that have consumed Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

All this has unfolded while the world's attention has been focused elsewhere, with aid budgets stretched or under political pressure.

The UK is contributing more than £200 million over the next five years, but the overall response is woefully underfunded.

One official tells me that in Kasai alone their budget will still leave 100,000 or more children without help this coming year.

Mbombo appeared to have starved herself to feed her children Credit: ITV News

We meet a painfully thin mother called Mbombo.

It looks like she starved herself to feed her children as they wandered through the bush in search of safety.

At a Unicef feeding centre, I watch as they wolf down their first proper meal in all that time.

There are many hungry mouths, and not nearly enough to go around.