In a collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross, photographer Jonathan Torgovnik traveled to the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year to reveal the lasting effects of a little-known battle over a lake.
In late 2009, violence erupted among villages over fishing rights in Congo, forcing an estimated 165,000 people to flee their homes, according to ICRC figures, and find refuge across the Ubangui River in the Republic of Congo.
To get around the seemingly impossible-to-navigate country, Torgovnik relied on the local Congolese when he visited the region in 2011.
“It was amazing to see how difficult it was to get there,” he said. After a flight, travel by a land cruiser, a canoe ride, a few hours of walking and a wade in waist-deep water, he reached the remote area.
The refugees were still struggling, he said, as cassava – a staple root plant in many parts of Africa – was infected with the mosaic virus.
ICRC provided virus-immune cassava to Impfondo, Republic of Congo, where resources were being exhausted, Torgovnik said. They taught the locals how to plant and treat the new crops.
“The lengths they take to help these people, to fly cassava from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere,” he said. “I’m impressed by what they’ve done.”
The Red Cross also went back to the villages to properly bury civilians caught in the conflict, connect children with parents or other relatives and assist in rebuilding homes in Congo.
While focusing on the consequences of the violence, Torgovnik noticed the resilience of the people who were affected. “To be able to go through these horrors and conditions, to still have a life and be able to smile.”
“There was not only misery,” he said. “There were signs of recovery, of people wanting to come back (to Congo). … I report the evidence through photography of what I see; a struggle, but also a slow restart.”
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN