Narrator: Nestling in the shadow of near Mugunga volcano, Mugunga 3, one of a number of displaced persons camps near Goma, in the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the city for unique mobile telephone survey about food security being conducted by the UNited Nations World Food Programme. It’s important to know if people are getting enough food to survive and that food assistance is going to those who need it most. One of the 300 participants in the survey is Agnes Niyanzira, a widow whose husband was killed fighting in the home province of Masisi. She fled to Mugunga with six children, five years ago, her youngest was born in the camp.
Agnes: “When we were in Masisi, it was the war and rebels came to our home. They burst into our house and killed seven of my siblings. I was shot three times in my arms and in my back. They all died. I was the only survivor.”
Narrator: Because of her injuries, Agnes now struggles to walk. Once a month, she gets a call from a World Food Programme operator, who asks questions about what she and her children have been eating and how they have been coping when short of food. Every few days, she gets her mobile recharged for free. The phone, her first ever, was given to her by the World Food Programme. This project, also being conducted in Somalia, is leading the way in remote data collection about food consumption and coping strategies amongst the displaced.
Agnes: “When I get these calls, I remember all sorts of things, especially when I’m asked if I’ve recently drunk milk or eaten eggs. Because it’s a long time since I’ve had them. I don’t get these things anymore.”
Narrator: As a disabled, single-head of household, Agnes qualifies for food assistance from the World Food Programme. Every month, Agnes, and other vulnerable people in the camp get a ration of maize and other commodities. To supplement this, Agnes does laboring jobs in nearby farms. With the money she earns, she can buy food in the local market. One of the benefits of taking part in the survey is that Agnes gets US 50 cents a time credited after each questionnaire. She can then call her relatives in Masisi or anyone else.
Agnes: ”Having a phone has helped me a lot. I’m not so worried now if my child falls sick because I can call for help and even use the torch for light.”
Narrator: The survey calls are made from the World Food Programme office in Goma. Automated voice calls are also being used. The advantage of these is that they can be made during the weekend when staff are not working and when respondents may have more time. One of the things that makes this system special is that the data is available in real time.
Woman speaking over the phone in an native African language
Jean-Martin Bauer: What we’ve learned is that mobile technology is a very effective means of contacting this population in the Mugunga 3 camp. It’s cheap, it’s quick, it’s flexible. We are talking to people who are not necessarily in the camp, not necessarily in their homes and we are able to reach them through the phones that they have.
Narrator: Security permitting some displaced people are returning to their home villages. For the moment, however, Agnes’s relatives in Masisi are telling her that she is safer staying put in the camp.