In DRC's Lubutu Territory, the rehabilitation of an airstrip has brought hope to local people as well as to humanitarian aid workers. After 20 years of isolation, Lubutu was at last connected to the rest of the world in June, allowing WFP to provide safe and reliable air transport to humanitarian aid workers in the area.
When the first humanitarian aircraft landed at Lubutu airstrip in eastern DRC after years of air link isolation, a large crowd welcomed its arrival with traditional songs and dances. At last, Lubutu was connected to the rest of the world.
"The last time an airplane had landed here was back in the 1990s," recalled Risasi Igwangeya, a student at Lubutu’s Institute for Agricultural Studies. “That was when there were some missionaries around.”
When armed conflict erupted in eastern DRC in 1996, many missionaries and businessmen fled. Commercial, economic and agricultural activity was disrupted. Roads and transport infrastructure were left without maintenance, making movement even more challenging.
Lubutu may be only 400 kms north of Kindu, Maniema’s provincial capital, but it takes several days to travel that distance by vehicle due to poor road conditions.
To facilitate humanitarian access, the logistics cluster led by WFP decided to rehabilitate the Lubutu airstrip. With funding provided by the Howard Buffett Foundation, the four-month repair job was completed by WFP’s partner, German Agro Action, in March 2014.
“The rehabilitation of the Lubutu airstrip is a relief for the population of Lubutu,” declared Pascal Tutu Salumu, Governor of Maniema province at the inauguration ceremony in June. “This will not only allow aid workers to provide assistance to conflict-affected communities but also stimulate commercial and economic activity in our region.”
For students like Risasi, the airstrip could mean teachers from other provinces coming to work in Lubutu.
Lubutu Territory has the Maniema’s highest global acute malnutrition rate among children. In 2013, WFP provided blanket feeding there to 12,000 malnourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
“Providing safe and timely air transport to remote locations like Lubutu is how WFP aviation contributes to improving the lives of people who need help,” says Philippe Martou, WFP Area Coordinator for the Kivus and Maniema.
The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), which is managed by WFP, serves 20 destinations across the country, transporting an average of 3, 200 passengers and 20 metric tonnes of cargo per month. The operation is funded through voluntary contributions from Belgium, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and Pooled Funds for Humanitarian Preparedness and Response.