Although, I had been working in Cambodia with many returnees from the refugee camps in Thailand. I had no idea at all of the misery which can be spread during a mass exodus ending up on the shore of the Lake Kivu. I consider to have changed deeply my perception of the world during these 9 months of very intense work. The human dignity is not given once for all, it is a daily construction requiring a strong commitment from the whole humanity. There is more than the present lives at stake in resolving the refugees crisis. The whole social order is at risk of loosing its credibility and the chance for escalating chaos and violence are very related to the despair and destitution experienced by the refugees in the camps.
The logistics for the WFP operations in Bukavu was extremely tight. Three warehouses were in operations. The food dispatch to 27 Rwandese refugee camps in a weekly rotation was at all time on the verge to get interrupted by natural, mechanical or political conditions. The failure to deliver food was likely to resume violence and starvation for countless people inside and outside the camps. The resources of Bukavu were stretched to the limits by the influx of peoples and the cash brought by the relief agencies. It was no surprise for me that the final chapter of the long decay of the Mobutu regime started in Kivu. In 1994, it was already evident that the Zairian state had lost completely its credibility and capacity to rule.
I discovered that I could do quite a lot in these extreme conditions close to chaos. I have setup from scratch a database to process all the waybills and to task the various trucks and barges. I wrote several mini-projects to compensate or mitigate the impact of the refugee camps on the local population. I contributed to the census of the refugees and recycled the damaged flour into animal feed.
The most rewarding with that experience was the team spirit and the immense satisfaction to contribute to the relief of suffering.
I joined in Bujumbura a large team of MSF-Belgium which had some activities in the refugee camps of Ngozi but was also supporting three provincial hospitals and several small health centers.
The situation was evolving on a slower pace than in Bukavu as the movement of the Rwandese refugee had nearly stopped. But the confrontation between the army and the Hutus militia was escalating rapidly. The internally displaced people were in a very uncertain and miserable situation, very exposed, harassed from all side, out of reach for most of the relief agencies.
Among the very pressing task of dispatch and purchasing, I have managed to computarize the tracking of the purchase requests and I spent much of time in monitoring the security situation. Emergency plans were upgraded. The inter agencies co-ordination was reinforced.
The efficiency was remarkable and the commitment of the whole MSF team was very praiseworthy.
MSF embarked into a flood relief in a country where rivers are larger than life. The team had a lot of difficulty to identify its priorities. Very large areas and very large resources from the Chinese side were involved. The MSF specific advantages did not find their best terrain.
The Yangtse River overtook its banks because of the deep frost in its estuary. As large areas of cultivated land are below the river bed, the floods spread quickly and the frost transformed the landscape in the largest ice skatting ground I had ever seen.
The area where MSF was asked to support the intervention of the local Red Cross was far more adapted to its real expertise. The population was very poor but a substantial targeting was required to reach the most vulnerable. The Chinese had some rice but no high protein complement so MSF provide it. The problem of contamination of water sources was quite efficiently reduce by the rapid dispatch of chlorine.
The experience was very interesting as the concept of targeting the most vulnerable was not very familiar to the local approach of relief for all. The idea of expensive high protein biscuits had to be discussed in length before being fully accepted.
The acute malnutrition prevailing in a camp of ethnic Somalis had required the setup of a therapeutic feeding center manned by MSF-Belgium. An attempt was made to reintegrate the camp dwellers into a more sustainable life by designing mini-projects to boost agriculture production, livestock keeping, petty trading ...Unfortunately the security conditions did not permit the long term presence required by this approach.
Crop failures were responsible for the mobilization of a large food aid package. A number of NGOs received the task to distribute to the relevant beneficiaries but most of them were short of targeting methodologies.
Hired by Save the Children (UK), I got the chance to operate in Mara, Mwanza, Shinyanga, Singida and Dodoma regions. The task was to define criteria for the selection of beneficiaries and to allow a better understanding of the food economy and the coping mechanisms involved during food crisis. I cooperated with various NGOs and the local authorities in adapting the targeting methods and organized several workshops.
During July 98, it became clear that the harvest of cereal was going to be much lower than expected particularly in Singida, Shinyanga and Dodoma region. I was assigned in Singida and prepared a geographical targeting by collecting crop and livestock data in 250 villages.
In September 98, WFP backed an emergency food distribution of 9000 MT. During October 98, the activation of distribution committee was completed in all the 88 villages targeted therefor the distribution could proceed before the November's rain.
That mission was very important to me as it has allow me to mix logistics, RRA, statistics, agriculture and database management. It was very exciting and rewarding.
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