Fending off the Cold in DR Congo
June 10, 2011—Francine Uwihezimana was wearing two dresses and still shivering when staff from Mercy Corps came across her last January in Kasheshe, a camp of internally displaced persons in tumultuous North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“It is very cold here, so I wore both dresses at night to have a little heat, but this did not warm me,” the eight-year-old later explained.
When she, her mother and baby brother were offered warm blankets by Mercy Corps, a United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) partner in the DRC, Francine was more than thrilled. “Now,” she said, “in the evening and when it rains, I take my blanket and I cover myself very well, and I’m not cold.”
Francine said the illnesses provoked by the cold in Kasheshe, a camp of 458 individuals, disappeared with the gift of the blankets.
In fact, nearly 3,000 people in a total of five internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in North Kivu would finally stop shuddering—and wearing extra clothes to bed—thanks to the UMCOR – Mercy Corps partnership.
Although UMCOR works extensively in DRC, it does not have a presence in North Kivu province. Nevertheless, the organization was aware of the continual movement of people into and out of the IDP camps there due to the conflict that has been ongoing in the region since 1998.
Working with Mercy Corps, which already had staff on the ground in North Kivu, allowed UMCOR to stretch its funding and provide supplies to a larger population.
The distribution of the blankets and of more than 1,300 jerry cans for hauling or storing water occurred between November 2010 and January this year. Along with the jerry can distribution, hygiene messages and information on water storage were also shared.
It was the second large-scale distribution carried out by UMCOR and Mercy Corps together in DRC. Earlier in 2010, the two organizations provided 12,293 households in 18 IDP camps in North Kivu one clean, sealable, 20-liter jerry can. Together, they reached more than30,000 people, or approximately one-third of all IDPs then living in camps in North Kivu, with an essential resource.
Serving the most vulnerable
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of December 2010, there were more than 500,000 internally displaced persons in North Kivu, which borders Rwanda and Uganda. Most live in homes with host families. The precise number of displaced fluctuates with the waves of violence.
The upsurge of violence since August 2008—with its new waves of displaced persons—has strained IDP camps and exceeded the capacity of many of the humanitarian organizations already working in North Kivu to respond to even the basic needs of those displaced.
Currently, more than 72,000 displaced persons are officially registered as living in IDP camps in the province in northeastern DRC. According to Mercy Corps, “Blankets are rarely distributed and were in demand as the temperature dropped.”
This distribution specifically provided blankets to 2,967 people, including 2,202 children in five of the most vulnerable IDP camps in North Kivu. In addition to Kasheshe, blankets were also distributed in Mpati, Mokoto, Kivuye, and Nyange.
These camps were targeted because they are new and have received little external support. Mercy Corps selected the camps in consultation with Première Urgence, the camp managers. They agreed on which camps had received the least support and were the most vulnerable and in need.
Kasheshe, for example, is a “spontaneous” camp and has not yet been officially recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is located in one of the most unstable parts of North Kivu.
Mpati, Kivuye, and Nyange have largely been neglected due at least in part to their relative inaccessibility. Both Kivuye and Nyange camps have been subject to pillaging, so the UMCOR – Mercy Corps distribution of blankets and jerry cans contributed to the replacement of lost goods.
Within camps, Mercy Corps and UMCOR targeted children, the elderly, people with disabilities, female-headed households to receive the items. On January 29, a fire in Mokoto camp destroyed 74 huts, and Mercy Corps was able to respond with additional blankets and jerry cans for the affected families only two days later.
Marie Nyiramana was among the elderly who received a much-needed blanket. When it is cold, she experiences paralyzing pain in her legs. The blanket she received from the UMCOR – Mercy Corps distribution has brought her relief, she said, and she is thankful.
*This story was prepared with the collaboration of Amber Kubera, UMCOR NGO program officer covering Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sri Lanka, and personnel from Mercy Corps.