When conflict or disaster hits, local families are the primary source of refuge and comfort for the disaster/conflict-affected populations before front line humanitarian agencies like WFP can have time and resources to intervene. In DRC’s northern province of Equateur several Congolese families have opened their doors to hundreds of thousands of CAR citizens who had fled scenes of horrors in their home country last year. Marie-Claire, a Congolese young mother tells us what it is to be a host family.
Zongo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Marie-Claire Mukenga (28) is from Zongo, a small town of about 30,000 people in DRC’s northern Province of Equateur. Since April last year, she has been sharing her house and income with a Central African family. They fled their homeland and crossed the Oubangui River following a military coup in March 2013. This coup and the subsequent political turmoil in Central African Republic (CAR) have during the last year driven huge numbers of refugees into neighbouring countries, among them more than 62,000 people into DRC. Half of the refugees are accommodated in three camps in Equateur province while the rest live with host families, most of whom already have scant resources.
For people like Marie-Claire who have opened their doors to CAR refugees, life has changed significantly. This mother of one now has to spend more money than ever before, providing food and other items for her newly enlarged family of twelve.
“Life is getting very difficult with the influx of refugees,” she says. “Shopping is really a problem. Food is scarce and prices are high. When you go to the market, especially in the afternoon, you cannot find anything to buy because people from Bangui come here to get their food.”
Insecurity in Bangui means commercial activity with neighboring countries is disrupted. Transporters are reluctant to go to Bangui and many traders including food suppliers have left the country as their shops and belongings have been looted by militia men. Not so long ago, Marie-Claire would spend 500XAF (approximately 1 US$) to provide food for herself and her family. Now this amount is not even enough to feed her six-year old daughter.
To make ends meet, the young mother makes dresses and shirts for sale. Having had his shop in Bangui looted, the head of the refugee family she hosts, Moussa Bah, has become a hawker in the streets of Zongo but his earnings are meagre. “There’s no money in town,” he says. “Sometimes I can walk a whole day or week without meeting any customer to buy my stuff.”
Equateur is an isolated province with limited road and transport infrastructure. The Oubangui River is an alternative access route but water levels have dropped significantly during the dry season, slowing the barges that supply Zongo.
WFP is distributing monthly food rations of cereals, pulses, vegetable oil and salt to the refugees and providing supplementary feeding and school meals for host families. WFP currently purchases locally-produced rice in Equateur to ensure timely food supply to the camps. This is designed to help boost the local economy and improve the lot of the local population. The first supply of this rice reached the camps in early March.
In addition to CAR refugees, WFP this year plans to assist some two million food-insecure people in DRC including IDPs, returnees, malnourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers