Goma, 2 December 2008 - When Peter Schaller, operations officer for WFP logistics in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), arrived at his duty station in Goma,in October, he had no illusions about the tasks ahead of him. The logistical challenge of working in a landlocked region nearly as big as France – with poor infrastructure and barely functioning local authorities – was about to get much worse.
The simmering war across North and South Kivu and Orientale Province was heating up, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and fields – yet again.
Camps for the displaced either expanded or sprang up in new areas, often close to the fighting. With rising numbers of people in need, WFP had to ramp up its efforts to provide food and other humanitarian assistance – wherever it could reach the Congolese people.
“We have had to open as many corridors as possible,” says Peter, referring to the various routes along which food and other goods can be brought to the regional centre of Goma, from where a fleet of WFP trucks as well as commercial vehicles are dispatched to various locations. WFP uses a number of seaports to bring food to the region. Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Beira in Mozambique are both entry points, but Mombasa, on the Kenyan coast, is the main sea port used by WFP.
Food cargoes are moved inland by rail or road to Kampala or Tororo in Uganda. From these two hubs, food assistance is moved either by road, or by barge across Lake Albert to Bunia and Goma. Careful consideration is given about the distances that food has to travel by road, especially after fuel costs rose this year.
“You have to make contingency plans in case some routes get closed; for instance before the latest clashes a month ago, we had three entry points for Goma – now we have only one, from Rwanda.”
Bunagana is now officially closed by the DRC government because it’s in territory controlled by Laurent Nkunda’s rebel forces, and Ishasha is currently insecure.
Each new corridor has to be checked, not only for security, but also to ensure that it can carry sufficient capacity. “We’re talking about shifting around 8,000 tons of food per month, so there’s no point in looking at a road that can’t carry heavy trucks,” says Peter Schaller.
Certain areas, for example around Dungu, in Ituri Province, are so inaccessible – either because of insecurity or an absence of roads – that plans are underway to start both an airbridge and potential air drops to provide around 50,000 internally displaced people with food and other assistance in the region.
The numbers of people being registered for food assistance regularly changes, either because they move from one place to another, or when an entire area becomes “off limits” to WFP food convoys due to insecurity – even with escorts from MONUC, the UN peacekeeping force in DRC.
WFP is often obliged to switch deliveries at the last moment. “Flexibility is vital,” Peter says. “We – and I’m talking about a logistics team here, including Gustave and Isaac – have learnt to stay on our toes and juggle our resources so we can provide a lifeline in this beautiful but benighted part of Congo."