No electricity, no clean water, no telephone, and a hut with a straw roof. This is what would become the WFP sub-office in Ango, Democratic Republic of Congo. In February 2011, we began working in this village located in the region of Uélé to bring food assistance to those displaced after the attacks of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). When we arrived, there was virtually no infrastructure – only a few brick houses, two cars, and no UN presence.
Our first mission? To set up the warehouse. After locating a space to erect the warehouse, we cleared, cleaned and built a place to store WFP’s food commodities. Meanwhile, daily life was simple to say the least. We spent two months in the dark each night, without electricity, dreaming of fresh drinking water, fruits and vegetables.
After a few months passed, we were able to begin food deliveries -- but not without a number of logistical challenges. Before WFP arrived, the area received very little humanitarian assistance because of a few reasons: the roads are often impassable, planes are a rare asset, and many times flights are canceled due to poor airstrip conditions. The rainy season also doesn’t help the situation, especially the road conditions, which make it very difficult to reach beneficiaries located in several nearby remote villages. In neighboring Dungu territory, the lack of road and airport infrastructure had led WFP to drop food assistance by air to reach vulnerable populations.
To reach Ango, the food must make a long journey. It begins in Koboko, a logistics hub in Uganda, where the trucks are loaded. From here, drivers are on the road anywhere between 3 and 5 weeks before they arrive in Ango, due to road conditions and security problems along the way. During the rainy season, which lasts for about 5 months per year, the roads deteriorate even further, leading to delays in the delivery.
But this isn’t the worst of it... Once the food has arrived in Ango, it must be distributed. This means driving over roads which are even more difficult, particularly because of the dilapidated bridges that are unable to support the passage of trucks.
I remember one time we were completely stuck; we appealed to local residents, who helped us cross the river. We have transferred food in canoes too, holding up to 500 kg per shift – it takes several spins on a canoe to get cargo to the other side! In other instances, we have brought food feeding centers on bicycles, under the supervision of village chiefs. In neighboring areas, some of the other difficulties include only having to cross a series of 11 damaged bridges to reach distribution sites, and crossing makeshift bridges made of boats tied together.
Insecurity in the area is also a challenge, as Ango was the only territory of the Eastern province which did not house a United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) base, an important contributor to the strengthening of national peacekeeping efforts. Because of this, humanitarian staff travel has been quite limited.
By early 2012, there were 12 of us from WFP in Ango, and a colleague from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). Most of us live in the compound, which can now accommodate 10 people, and by late 2012, the complex will be able to offer 12 rooms. In 2011, we delivered food to approximately 30,000 people.
-- Brett Hanley, Chief of sub-office, Ango DRC
*Above three photos credited to WFP/Brett Hanley