Six Questions With WFP Nutritionist In Eastern Congo

Crispin Mpigirwa is a WFP nutritionist, who works in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where entire communities often have to abandon their homes to escape fighting. A Congolese national, with 15 years of experience in humanitarian work, Crispin is a key figure in WFP’s efforts to combat malnutrition in the camps for displaced people around Goma.

Crispin agreed to answer 6 questions about his work as a nutritionist in Eastern Congo and about the effects of displacement on the families he meets every day.

What is your working day like?
I spend a lot of my time trying to understand the nutritional status of the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in this area, both the ones we assist and others. I talk to them to find out what types of food they eat and try to see where the biggest nutritional needs are.
I also spend a lot of time at the feeding units in the camps and at the clinics. I examine the IDPs that come with their children to see if they are malnourished and how badly malnourished. If they are severely malnourished, I have to refer them to a hospital and make sure they get the special foods they need, through our partner UNICEF. Another thing I do is to help train our NGO partners, so they can assist IDPs better and so that together we can be more effective in preventing malnutrition.

Displaced in Eastern DRC

Displaced people in DRC opening a bag of WFP food

There are some 2.7 million displaced people in eastern DRC. WFP is providing life-saving food assistance to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence and assisting people as they return to home and begin rebuilding their lives.

How does displacement actually happen? When do people decide to leave their homes?
Often, the displacement is preventative – people leave their homes because they’ve heard that fighting is moving their way. Or that there was fighting somewhere near. But not always. If they are caught up in the hostilities, they will wait for the fighting to stop before leaving their homes.

How does being displaced effect women? Particularly pregnant and nursing mothers?
A pregnant woman should eat for her and her child. When she does not receive the necessary food for herself and the fetus is in the womb, she becomes malnourished. Her breast milk stays clean but the mother who is malnourished cannot produce enough. We often see malnutrition in the IDP camps, among pregnant women who fled three months earlier.

What’s the effect on children's education? Are displaced children able to enroll in local schools?
In DRC, school fees are supported by parents, who have to pay fees. Thus, most pupils abandon classes when they are displaced. Their families lack the means to cover school fees.

How do local people react to the arrival of IDPs in their community?
There is a mutual support but the host community is also poor. In eastern DRC, people have been living with displacement for over 15 years. They have developed their own ways of helping vulnerable people (women, elderly, children, the disabled) when crisis strikes.

How long have you worked in the humanitarian field? And what makes you carry on?
I have worked as a humanitarian in DRC for more than 15 years and, despite the efforts of the humanitarian community, there are many people still in need. Sometimes it’s frustrating. It seems the situation stays the same despite all our efforts.
But I want to continue with this work, as there are results that are visible. I see malnourished children recover and return home. I see pregnant women who were undernourished return to good health. I like working with the humanitarian community. I bring support to people in difficult situations.