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DR Congo: river is only way to deliver aid to tens of thousands of displaced people

19-11-2010 Operational Update

The ICRC was able to deliver humanitarian aid to 25,000 displaced people in Equateur province in the north-west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the help of a barge. Update on ICRC activities from July to October 2010 in this remote region and across the country.

The violence that erupted in October 2009 in Dongo, a town in Sud-Ubangi district, had serious consequences in humanitarian terms. According to United Nations figures, around 165,000 people were displaced (including 110,000 who sought refuge in the Republic of the Congo and 18,000 in the Central African Republic). Houses were looted and burned down, harvests lost, livestock wiped out and farming equipment destroyed.

For the ICRC, getting aid to the displaced presents a huge challenge. “Most of the area cannot be accessed by our lorries. Motorbikes are the only way of getting through," explains Anne Muller, head of the ICRC office in Dongo. Versatility and imagination are therefore required.

“Communities in this region have always made their homes along the banks of the river. Since it was so difficult to transport the aid – consisting of kitchen utensils, farming tools and seed – to the inhabitants of Sud-Ubangi by road, we decided to follow their example and use the river,” says Jean-Claude Chesaux, logistics coordinator for the ICRC in the DRC.

A barge was therefore loaded with 290 tonnes of aid and, over the course of the next three weeks, it conveyed its precious cargo to Dongo. “We spent several weeks at the mercy of the river, first of all seeing the barge loaded up, then monitoring its progress towards Dongo, fervently hoping it would arrive safely at its destination before the start of the dry season," continues Jean-Claude Chesaux. After that, the water level drops too low to travel on the river.

ICRC teams were therefore in a race against time to deliver desperately needed aid to the displaced, some of whom had already begun to return to their homes.

A new beginning

In cooperation with the Red Cross Society of the DRC, the ICRC launched a cash-for-work programme in June 2010. One aim was to rebuild the houses destroyed during the fighting. This would allow families who wished to return to their homes to do so. A further aim was to create short-term jobs, which would go some way towards mitigating the loss of income and resources.

The programme initially focused on the areas of Dongo centre, Monzaya, Dongo-Enyele and Saba-Saba but was later expanded to include Dongo-Imesse.

For many families displaced in 2009, returning to their devastated villages is a daunting prospect; everything has to be rebuilt from scratch. The ICRC and the National Society therefore continued to run the programme so that people would have adequate housing on their return.

Julie is among those who fled the other side of the river because of the clashes. “War is a terrible thing,” says this elderly lady, who, together with her two grand-daughters, took refuge in Eboko, a small village opposite Dongo in neighbouring Republic of the Congo. They spent six months there, living in difficult conditions in a refugee camp, before returning home.

What persuaded her to return to the DRC? “We couldn't grow food any longer. Life became very hard. When I heard that the Red Cross was helping those who returned rebuild their houses, I didn't hesitate. It feels much better to be home."

Children reunited with their families

As is so often the case during situations of armed conflict and internal violence, numerous families were torn apart by last year’s clashes.

Through its own restoring family links services and supported by the National Society volunteer network, the ICRC was able to reunite 37 children with their families in Equateur province.

The ICRC helped the National Society to develop its capacity in this area by supporting them in setting up an outpost in Dongo and training volunteers.

As of late October 2010, a total of 36 tracing requests were being handled. The ICRC continues to distribute Red Cross messages in the regions where it operates, and to trace the families of 97 unaccompanied children who had been registered with the organization by that date.

A dignified burial for the victims

The violence last year took a heavy toll. In April 2010, the ICRC supported efforts by the Red Cross Society of the DRC to begin collecting and identifying the mortal remains. This task is being carried out by Red Cross volunteers under the supervision of a judicial police officer, and will continue in November in Eneyle, Saba-Saba, and Imesse.

First on the scene – yet limited resources

In Equateur province, the ICRC works closely with the National Society branch in Sud- Ubangi.

In order to build capacity at this branch, in March 2010 the ICRC donated first-aid equipment and helped the organization train 40 first aiders. This training is ongoing and will continue in November.

“It is vital that we increase the skills of volunteers in this region and support them. National Society volunteers are often the first to be mobilized and to arrive on the scene. In 2009, they did their best to help the victims, often with limited means, even though the violence had also affected them and their families," says Anne Muller.

The ICRC’s activities in Sud-Ubangi in figures

Building and repairing houses

Between July and October 2010, the ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the DRC:

  • rebuilt a total of 700 homes in Dongo, Likpangbala, Bolomo I and II, and Mobambo.
  • provided 789 people with a temporary source of income through the cash-for-work programme. The materials used for the building work were purchased locally; this ensured that buildings were suited to their environment and also boosted the local economy.

The building programme will also cover around 20 of the houses in Saba-Saba that were burned down and 227 in Monzaya. A number of building projects to meet the needs of people in Enyele are also under consideration. A further 1,000 houses abandoned when the inhabitants fled and which have become run down as a result of the rainy season and lack of maintenance may be repaired in the months to come.

Boosting agricultural production

In late October 2010, ICRC teams launched an assistance project to boost agricultural production per household. This will provide:

  • 1,400 households with fishing equipment and a further 1,400 with tools and seed (groundnut, maize, amaranth and spinach) in Imesse
  • 1,800 households in Dongo Saba-Saba with seed and tools
  • 1,800 households in Dongo – Enyele and Buburu with seed and tools
  • sets containing cooking utensils, blankets, sleeping mats, soap, buckets, hoes, jerrycans and clothes to 5,000 households in all areas where the ICRC operates.

The humanitarian situation in Kivu and Orientale province is still a cause for concern

Life remain difficult in eastern DRC (the Kivus and some parts of Orientale province). For thousands of men, women and children, the prevailing lack of security leaves them vulnerable to looting, sexual violence, forced labour and attacks. In conjunction with the Red Cross Society of the DRC, the ICRC continues to work in aid of the civilian and military victims of the conflict in this part of the country.
Between July and October 2010, the ICRC:

  • visited 10,326 detainees during 71 visits to 42 places of detention across the country;
  • collected 806 and distributed 553 Red Cross messages to detainees, enabling them to re-establish or maintain contact with their loved ones;
  • regularly supplied soap and hygiene articles to over 10,000 detainees in 14 prisons;
  • as part of the ICRC food support programme, distributed food aid consisting of over 225,000 daily food rations to more than 2,500 detainees in six prisons (Makala in Kinshasa, Mbanza Ngungu, Matadi, Mbuji Mayi, Bunia and Kisangani);
  • collected 10,385 and distributed 8,149 Red Cross messages nationwide;
  • in cooperation with the Red Cross Society of the DRC, reunited 269 separated children including 103 former child soldiers with their relatives in North and South Kivu, Orientale province and Katanga
  • supported 10 health centres in North and South Kivu, which:
    • carried out 25,805 consultations
    • assisted 1,752 births
    • supplied 17,838 vaccine doses
  • supported 37 “maisons d’écoute” (counselling centres) in North and South Kivu, which assisted:
  • 1,026 rape victims
  • 130 victims of sexual violence
  • 597 other cases, most of which involved trauma associated with the conflict.
  • distributed kits of essential items (blankets, kitchen utensils, etc) to 10,704 households in Orientale province and North and South Kivu, and vegetable and crop seed, tools and other materials needed to restart agricultural production to 17,585 households in North and South Kivu, Equateur et Orientale province.
  • supported 62 people in South Kivu in the form of individual economic projects (small business, production unit, etc)
  • distributed food rations to 88,296 displaced people and returnees in North Kivu.

For further information, please contact:
Inah Kaloga in Kinshasa on +243 81 700 85 36 or kin_kinshasa@icrc.org
or Iolanda Jaquemet in Geneva on +41 79 217 32 04 or ijaquemet@icrc.org


DR Congo. The ICRC-hired barge arrives in Dongo with its cargo of kitchen utensils, farming tools and seed. 

Equateur province, north-west DR Congo. The ICRC-hired barge arrives in Dongo with its cargo of kitchen utensils, farming tools and seed.
© ICRC / J. Cimanga

DR Congo. Unloading the ICRC-hired barge in Dongo with its cargo of kitchen utensils, farming tools and seed. 

Equateur province, north-west DR Congo. Unloading the ICRC-hired barge in Dongo with its cargo of kitchen utensils, farming tools and seed.
© ICRC / J. Cimanga

DR Congo. Rebuilding houses destroyed during fighting through ICRC's cash-for-work programme. 

Equateur province, north-west DR Congo. Rebuilding houses destroyed during fighting through ICRC's cash-for-work programme.
© ICRC / J. Cimanga