Largest trainload of WFP food in years leaves Lubumbashi in DR Congo

Published on 13 October 2006

A train loaded with a total of 587 metric tons of food aid has left Lubumbashi in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in what is believed to be the largest amount of food aid dispatched on a single train in the DRC in years, the WFP said.

A train loaded with a total of 587 metric tons of food aid left Lubumbashi in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo today, in what is believed to be the largest amount of

This humanitarian aid train represents hope for more than 200,000 people who need food aid in Bukama, Manono and Malemba-Nkulu territorie
Charles Vincent, WFP Country Director in DRC

food aid dispatched on a single train in the DRC in years, the WFP said.

On arrival in the river port of Bukama, 400 kilometres northeast of the capital of Katanga, the 15 railway wagons of food will be transferred to barges and trucks to continue the journey to usually isolated parts of Katanga Province to help feed both displaced people and returnees.

“This humanitarian aid train represents hope for more than 200,000 people who need food aid in Bukama, Manono and Malemba-Nkulu territories,” said Charles Vincent, WFP Country Director in DRC.

“Those people who were able to plant will only start harvesting in January,” he said.

Agreement

The same train and wagons will head back to Lubumbashi and return several times, bringing another 1,663 tons of WFP food – one month of rations for the people of central Katanga Province – to Bukama for onward transport.

Other aid trains will use the same route in November and December.

The launch of the humanitarian aid train follows an agreement between the Congolese National Railways Company (SNCC) and WFP, helped by the creation of a ‘logistics cluster’, grouping several UN agencies and NGOs.

Logistical challenges

The cluster aims to solve the huge logistical challenges in DRC quickly and effectively.

While WFP and NGOs have used the Lubumbashi-Bukama line for several years, this is the first time that a single food aid train has comprised as many as 15 wagons.

For nearly a year, it has been an enormous challenge to get food aid to the displaced people and returnees in Katanga.

Airdrops

Obtaining wagons and locomotives proved particularly difficult.

WFP now plans to send several thousand tons of food by rail over the next two months.

“In March, we had to resort to airdropping food in Katanga to stock vital supplies in various places. The transport cost was US$1,200 per ton, but it would have been much lower, about US$340, if we had been able to combine railways, road and water transport,” said Vincent.

Out of 200,000 displaced people in Katanga, more than 135,000 have returned home so far this year.

Food aid will help them through the annual ‘lean season’ when food is scarcest before the next harvest.

Strategic hub

From a logistical point of view, the 400km railway from Lubumbashi to Bukama is a strategic hub for humanitarian aid into eastern DRC.

The line reduces both the time and cost of food delivery because roads in Katanga are extremely bad.

The ‘logistics cluster’ was vital to securing a stronger partnership between the Congolese National Railways Company (SNCC) and the humanitarian community.

Second humanitarian train

SNCC plans to provide a second humanitarian train before the end of October to WFP and Atlas Logistique, a French non-governmental organisation partnering with WFP, to ferry more food aid to the central province of Maniema from Lubumbashi.

The DRC is still recovering from years of war and unrest that have devastated its infrastructure.

In many areas, insecurity and the problem of access complicate the timely delivery of food aid.

WFP aims to provide more than 875,000 people in DRC each month with 7,800 tons of food. But only 500,000 people are currently provided with rations – and these are less than full rations.

Fighting on different fronts

“We need to fight different battles in DRC,” said Vincent. “We must feed people who are cut off by insecurity, but also work to open up access to other remote areas, using local infrastructure to reach those needing food – faster and at a lower cost.”

WFP requires a total of 15,000 tons of food, valued at US$15 million, to meet food aid needs in DRC from October 2006 until June 2007.

So far, however, WFP has received contributions for only half that amount of food and its operations in DRC have a shortfall of US$31 million.