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Posts Tagged ‘Kivu’

Humanitarian aid still needed in east of country: DRC

Posted by African Press International on December 3, 2013

GENEVA, Switzerland, December 2, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ With the end of fighting between the armed forces and M23 in Rutshuru, displaced people are returning home. The ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are carrying on with their humanitarian work in the east of the country.

“Recent events in Rutshuru should not cause us to overlook the fact that the humanitarian and security situation remains difficult in other territories in the east of the country,” said Alessandra Ménegon, head of the ICRC delegation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “The people there are still facing serious problems arising from violence and the lack of health care, clean water and food.”

In Rutshuru, groups of displaced people have been returning to their home villages since fighting ended. Several hundred members of M23 have turned themselves in or been captured. “We are visiting former fighters and civilians arrested in connection with the recent fighting, and the places where they are gathered or detained,” said Rachel Bernhard, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Goma.

The aim of the ICRC’s visits is to assess the conditions in which people are being held and to ensure that they are being treated humanely and with dignity, in accordance with applicable rules and standards.

Unexploded munitions a danger for the population

“People are trying to get back to living normal lives, so they’re going to be working in the fields, but it’s very risky because of the explosive hazards that remain,” said Ms Bernhard.

To help prevent accidents involving explosive devices, radio messages warning of the danger are being broadcast by the Congolese Red Cross and the ICRC.

The recent improvement in security conditions made it possible to reunite almost 40 children who had been living in shelters in Goma with their families in mid-November. “My granddaughter is coming home today,” said Augustine. “I was afraid I would never see her again.” Since the beginning of October, 125 children have been returned to their families through the joint efforts of the ICRC and the Congolese Red Cross.

Improved health-care facilities in South Kivu

In territories other than Rutshuru in the east of the country, fighting involving many armed groups is causing great suffering for civilians. In South Kivu, an ICRC surgical team has performed 44 operations on war-wounded patients in the provincial referral hospital of Bukavu since the beginning of October.

“We’re upgrading the infrastructure in this hospital, and building a new health-care centre in Ramba, in Kalehe territory,” said Catherine de Patoul, in charge of ICRC medical programmes in North and South Kivu. A gynaecology unit is being fitted out in Walungu hospital. Medicines are being distributed and training provided in four rural hospitals and three health-care centres. In addition, support is being maintained for 40 counselling centres (“maisons d’écoute”) in the Kivus that accommodate victims of sexual assault and other violence-related trauma.

Following violent clashes between armed groups over the past few weeks, kitchen utensils, tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats and baskets have been distributed to some 35,000 people displaced from the south of Masisi who are now in the highlands of Kalehe and Ziralo in South Kivu.

In north-central Katanga province, a distribution of basic necessities has been slowed because of the security situation. Nevertheless, 1,900 people currently displaced in the villages of Paza and Kalwala, in Manono territory, received tarpaulins, sleeping mats, blankets, kitchen utensils, buckets, soap, hoes, plastic drums and hygiene products.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, since the beginning of October the ICRC has also:

•    continued to visit people held in civilian and military places of detention in connection with armed conflict, distributing food in five prisons and medicines in 19 prison clinics;

•    continued working to improve the water distribution network of the city of Goma, in particular by opening two new pumping stations that will ultimately provide the city’s 500,000 inhabitants with clean drinking water;

•    continued water catchment and supply programmes for more than 85,000 people living in rural areas in the territories of Walikale, Masisi and Rushuru, in North Kivu province;

•    continued fish farm projects in North and South Kivu for almost 4,000 people, and agricultural projects involving the distribution of healthy cassava cuttings, soybean, maize and beans with the aim of promoting the economic recovery of people displaced by conflict or returning home;

•    reunited 125 children with their families by working together with the Congolese Red Cross in Equator, Western and Eastern Kasai, Katanga, North and South Kivu and Eastern provinces.



International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)



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Polio campaigns – Learning to walk

Posted by African Press International on August 13, 2013

Polio survivor Claudine Muhombe, 7, is learning how to walk again

GOMA, 1 – When Linda Lukambo, 21, asked his parents why they had neglected to get him the polio vaccine, “they told me, ‘we did’. So why have I got polio?” he told IRIN in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “Maybe they took me for vaccinations, but maybe not for polio.”

Lukambo first started having difficulty walking while at a pre-school in Tchambucha Village, near the North Kivu town of Walikale. After six months he was, he says, “still walking a little bit. And then I started to move on my bottom, and then on my knees, and it got worse and worse.” By the time he was in primary school he was “crawling on all fours”.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, a highly infectious, viral disease causing paralysis and in some cases death, has been eradicated in most countries through large-scale vaccination programmes. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) only Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan still have endemic polio transmission. UNICEF, the largest buyer of children’s vaccines in the world, recommends children receive at least three doses of the oral polio vaccine to ensure full immunity against the disease.

DRC is considered an “importation country”, meaning it experiences outbreaks of the disease because of low levels of immunity among the population. Polio eradication campaigns face myriad obstacles, including large-scale population displacements caused by DRC’s persistent conflicts, poor access to isolated communities, religious objections to the vaccine and weak infrastructure.

In 2007, Lukambo had a series of year-long leg-straightening operations at Goma’s public hospital, paid for by local NGO L´Association Congolaise Debout et Fier. (ACDF). ACDF then provided free leg braces, which enabled him to walk upright. He remembers being “very happy – I did not like the ground,” he said.

He has since become the caretaker at the ACDF centre, where polio survivors come for leg brace fittings or to just hang out or sleep over in a non-judgmental environment, as society often treats the disabled with suspicion and prejudice.

Learning to walk

Claudine Muhombe, 7, from Rugare near Masisi, arrived at the centre in April. She now scampers around the centre’s yard, uses the window frames as a climbing frame, and is quickly discovering how to walk with the aid of crutches and braces, also called callipers.

“It’s not difficult to walk,” she told IRIN. “I like walking. My Dad came [in June] to visit. He was very happy when he saw me, and I was happy to see my Dad happy.”

Joseph Kay of StandProud, the international and fundraising arm of ACDF, told IRIN that Claudine’s rapid progress meant she would probably not stay at the centre for long.

Learning to walk with the callipers and crutches can take weeks or months, requiring intensive physiotherapy to regain strength and balance. But even then, not all are able to.

“It was difficult to learn to walk with leg braces. It took a lot of time to learn. I had no strength in my lower back”

Lukambo’s transition from crawling on the floor to standing on his feet was not as swift as Claudine’s. After his leg-straightening operations, the wounds from the surgery continued to weep and would not heal. He had to undergo a skin graft, with skin taken from his thighs for his knees.

The years of crawling also damaged his hip, and an operation was performed to correct it. When he was finally ready to don callipers, it took nearly four months of daily practice to walk upright.

“It was difficult to learn to walk with leg braces. It took a lot of time to learn. I had no strength in my lower back, so I had to wear a corset,” he said.

After a few months of walking, the muscles in his lower back recovered and the corset was discarded, but Goma’s broken streets were an “obstacle course.”

“It’s something you have to get used to… But I am at the same level now as other people,” Lukambo said.

Polio campaigns

The first polio vaccination campaigns in the country began in the mid-1980s. At one stage, after no cases were recorded between 2001 and 2005, polio was considered eradicated in DRC.

In 2008, after an “epidemiological situation evolved in the central African region,” resulting in dozens of new infections in the country, the government and donors announced a polio vaccination programme targeting seven million children.

A polio survivor at l´Association Congolaise Debout et Fier centre in Goma doing chores

Emmanuel Nomo, UNICEF’s DRC polio team leader, recently told IRIN there had been no registered cases of polio in the country since December 2011.

“Authorities, vaccination teams and parents are doing the best they can to reach all children everywhere, including in the Kivus, despite the challenge of insecurity and lacking access,” he said.

This August, during the country’s National Immunization Day (NID), officials will hold a second round of vaccinations targeting 1,374,836 children up to five years old in North Kivu and 1,144,750 in South Kivu. According to independent monitoring by the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.5 percent of targeted children in North Kivu were missed in the July first round of vaccinations, while in South Kivu the number was 5 percent.

“During the July NID, insecurity – active fighting in some health zones – did not allow the vaccination teams to do their job” in the North Kivu health zones of Kamango, in three health areas in Binza, and three health areas in South Kivu’s Molungu, said Nomo.

“Even though the situation remains difficult in both Kivus, the second [round] of the NID is scheduled to take place throughout both provinces,” he said.

Nomo said issues with maintaining the cold chain, the system of temperature controls required to keep vaccines potent, were being addressed through the introduction of solar fridges by the government, with support from UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and the World Bank. Currently, only 30 percent of the country’s health centres have a functioning refrigerator.

“Providing good quality vaccines at the beneficiary level remains a challenge,” he said.

Calliper production

StandProud (founded in 1998) has established centres in Bunia, Butembo, Goma, Kalemie, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.

“We’ve made thousands and thousands of callipers. Hard to know exactly how many since 1998, but there are at least 5,000 individuals who have benefited over the years,” Kay said.

“I have made a lot [of leg braces]. I don’t know how many, but many, many, many”

Louis Nwande-Muhala, a calliper technician at the Goma centre, says it takes about two days to construct the custom-made leg braces – if there is electricity and the materials are available. The braces are made of steel, with leather used for the joints and hip support. The workshop also does repairs on braces, which have to deal with the country’s broken streets.

Nwande-Muhala’s left leg was paralysed at the age of five, not from polio, but from a quinine injection into his hip muscles, an old treatment for malaria that is still practised by some nurses despite the availability of safer treatments.

He first encountered the NGO when he wanted to acquire a leg brace. After being fitted for the brace, he decided to give up his tailoring job to make callipers. “I have made a lot [of leg braces]. I don’t know how many, but many, many, many.”

go/rz/cb source


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DRC: Conflict for Coffee?

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2013

GOMA,  – Entrepreneur Gilbert Makelele wants armed groups in his part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to wake up and smell the coffee.

“You should tell the population to grow coffee, as it’s the best way for them to make money,” he told a militia member during a recent visit to the town of Kalonge, where he and his fellow cooperative members have planted a nursery for coffee seedlings.The Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Planters and Traders (CPNCK), which Makelele founded five years ago, has planted six of these nurseries in the Kalonge-Pinga-Mweso triangle, a hotbed of militia activity.

“If the young men in this area knew how much they could earn with coffee, they would not be interested in joining militias,” Makelele told IRIN.

“A paradise for coffee”

Coffee, a traditional export crop, was virtually abandoned across much of North Kivu in the past 30 years. DRC’s production shrank from 110,000 metric tons in the late 1980s to about 50,000 metric tons in 2009, according to the DRC’s national coffee office.

CPNCK says it is giving away half a million arabica seedlings to help relaunch coffee’s cultivation.

Many people in the Kalonge area, including members of armed groups, appear to be interested in planting coffee. The militiaman told IRIN he would like to plant the crop on his ancestral land of more than 100 hectares, but that he would first have to raise US$1,000 to pay the land registry for title deeds.

Uncertainty about land titles and the involvement of Congolese and foreign armed groups are just some of the problems local farmers will face if they decide to take Makelele’s advice. Planting coffee is a long-term investment, prices have been volatile and the market is not as reliable as that for food crops.

Nevertheless, the crop has paid off for neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda, which have increased their production in recent years. The crop is Uganda’s single most important export, and coffee and tea together account for nearly half of Rwanda’s exports.

The recent history of coffee prices could also deter would-be planters: The New York market price for mild arabica, currently slightly above the inflation-adjusted average for the past decade, has fluctuated by more than 300 percent since 2003, and has trended downwards since the late 1970s.

But coffee’s promoters argue that increasing demand in middle-income countries, plus the possibility that climate change could lead to the spread of diseases in coffee plants, point to higher prices in future – and bright prospects for Kivu coffee.

Additionally, the temperate climate in the Kivu region’s hills is thought to be protection against coffee rust, the most devastating disease affecting arabica. Partly for this reason, World Coffee Research describes the area as “a paradise for coffee”.

This optimism has helped to persuade several NGOs – including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Oxfam, the Eastern Congo Initiative and the Fairtrade organization Twin – to launch coffee projects in the Kivu provinces.

Twin has helped a South Kivu co-operative, Sopacdi, replant coffee and improve yields, quality and post-harvest processing, enabling its 3,500 members to become the first producers in Kivu to achieve organic and Fairtrade certification.

Income potential

Sopacdi has publicized the job opportunities it has provided to ex-combatants. A number of them work at a mechanized washing centre – paid for by Twin and employing 161 people – where the coffee berries are depulped and dried.

One of the staff at the washing centre, former rebel Habamungu Engavashapa, told IRIN he was happy with civilian life because he was able to spend nights in a house rather than in the forest.

Another ex-combatant, Abdul Mahagi, said Sopacdi had trained him as a machinist and given him a contract; he said he was beginning to see a way to organize his life.

Other workers at the washing centre, however, complained that their salaries, about $60 a month, were barely enough to live on.

The main opportunities that coffee co-operatives are likely to provide for ex-combatants in the short term would be to clear land and plant seedlings.

CPNCK has been employing 50 ex-combatants on these tasks at a rate of $1 a day, much less than they would earn in artisanal mining, but not insignificant in most of the villages, says Jean-Baptiste Musbyimana, an agricultural journalist based in Goma.

The returns could be more enticing for ex-combatants and smallholder farmers who are able to grow coffee for themselves.

For information on the profitability of coffee versus that of alternative crops, IRIN consulted Franck Muke, an agronomist who has studied coffee production in DRC and in Brazil; Xavier Phemba, CRS’s agricultural project co-ordinator in Goma; and Sandra Kavira, an agronomist working for the International Fertilizer Development Centre.

Their data suggest returns from a hectare of 2,500 coffee trees could be two to three times as high as the returns from a hectare of maize or beans, assuming an absence of mineral fertilizers and only limited use of organic fertilizers.

Jean-Baptiste Musabyimana, of the Federation of Agricultural Producer Organizations of Congo (FOPAC), which does not promote coffee, said coffee is regarded as having several advantages over other crops, including the potential for intercropping with bananas, beans or legumes, which provide organic waste and additional profits from the same acreage.

Once the trees have been planted, coffee also requires less labour than annual crops and is less likely to be stolen.

“Armed groups won’t cut off the berries and eat them,” coffee plantation owner Eric Kulage told IRIN. “And the workers don’t want the berries either, whereas when they are harvesting maize they always solicit some bags.”

Coffee’s major disadvantage is the cost of planting and the fact that the trees cannot be harvested for the first three years and do not reach their full potential for five to eight years. Muke estimated costs of planting 2,500 trees per hectare, and pruning for three non-productive years, at $850 to $950. These costs, and the risks involved, limit the acreage farmers will be willing to devote to the crop.

Helping DRC compete

A significant limitation to DRC’s coffee industry is the lack of mechanized washing stations, which cut down on waste and help maintain product consistency. Washing stations are the norm in Uganda and Rwanda, but there are hardly any in Kivu, where producers depulp the berries by hand or sell the wet berries to merchants from Uganda and Rwanda.

Aid agencies are planning to install several washing stations at sites close to large population centres and to Lake Kivu. But Muke says this could be a mistake, as the lakeside areas have higher humidity, which is thought to promote coffee rust.

There could be social advantages to promoting a perennial crop in areas further from Lake Kivu, like Kalonge Pinga and Mweso, where many young men see joining an armed group as their most viable livelihood option.

“If they have a perennial crop to look after, they will want to settle down,” suggested CPNCK’s Makelele.

But a major obstacle to promoting agriculture in areas where militias recruit is, of course, insecurity. Although armed groups are unlikely to steal coffee berries, they might try to steal bulk loads of dried coffee from washing stations.

Plantation owner Kulage commented that, in his experience, armed groups had not succeeded in stealing and marketing large coffee harvests in recent years. He suggested that security forces might be deployed to protect washing stations during the limited periods when bulk loads of dried coffee are left there.

Oxfam’s co-ordinator for North Kivu, Tariq Riebl, doubted whether any donor would accept the risk of building a washing station in a place like Kalonge. He noted that 90,000 seedlings had recently been stolen from a CPNCK nursery near Kalonge.

“If you mention that to donors, they won’t want to hear anything more,” he said.

But Makelele argues that the theft was not a problem because the co-op was going to give the seedlings away anyway.

“I am very happy about it,” he told IRIN. “It shows that people want to plant coffee.”

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