DRC: New aid approach brings choice and dignity

10 October, 2013
September 2013. Katanga, DRC: Safi Mutombo displays her page of coupons. They are worth about US$90. In 2012, the CHF-funded organizations organized 23 fairs, where displaced families received a collective $16.3 million in support. Credit: OCHA/Gemma Cortes
September 2013. Katanga, DRC: Safi Mutombo displays her page of coupons. They are worth about US$90. In 2012, the CHF-funded organizations organized 23 fairs, where displaced families received a collective $16.3 million in support. Credit: OCHA/Gemma Cortes

It is nearly noon under the blazing sun of Kambilo, a village in the north of the mining province of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On one side of a clearing, local stallholders and merchants are setting up shop. On the other side, several hundred people line up patiently. They are residents of a nearby camp for people displaced by fighting.

The shoppers are waiting for the opening of an IDP fair – a new approach to aid delivery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These fairs allow people who have fled their homes and their belongings to buy supplies – clothes, cooking utensils and other household items, for example – directly from local vendors, instead of relying on standardized kits from NGOs or UN agencies.

This is the first fair to be held in Kambilo. The camp here is home to about 127,000 people who fled fighting in nearby Manono in March of this year. The fair is organised by the Salvation Army and is being financed by the OCHA-managed Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF).

The CHF is a country-based fund that pools money from different donors. Aid agencies can draw from this pool to ensure that urgent needs are met quickly and efficiently.

A range of benefits

Each displaced familiy receives a set of coupons worth US$ 90. They use these coupons as cash – shopping for what they need. Nadège Zawadi is a 25-year-old mother of four, and is expecting her fifth child soon.

“I was worried as the rainy season was approaching. Our huts are made of straw and the rain comes through; so I was wondering how I would live there with the children,” she said. “It was the same for everyone in the camp. (But) now that I have bought some canvas, I’m not worried any more.”

Nadège also bought clothes and kitchen utensils. “Everything I had was plundered during the war. When I wanted to leave my hut, I had to borrow clothes from a neighbour. To prepare some food, I had to go and borrow pots.”

The value of these fairs goes beyond the goods they provide. Families also get a much-needed sense of freedom; they are able to choose what they want, not what someone else has decided they need. They are able to haggle over prices and find bargains, just like they did before they were forced from their homes.

Local merchants benefit from a cash injection into the local economy, while the Aid camps minimize the negative effects of an influx of free aid on small businesses. At the end of the day, the merchants exchange the coupons they have received for cash from the NGOs involved.

“I managed to sell all my merchandise,” said one tired but satisfied vendor. “I made the profit I expected and I am satisfied.”

Rebuilding a sense of empowerment and responsibility

Trade fairs are a relatively new approach to aid distribution; a contrast with the traditional method of mass distributions of pre-defined basic supplies. They have so far proven a great success in DRC.

In2012, the CHF funded 23 of these fairs across the country, supporting more than 26,000 families in the process and injecting over $16.3 million into conflict-ravaged local economies. Since the beginning of this year, the CHF has allocated about $6 million towards providing people with basic shelter supplies, and other relief items, including through initiatives like the Kambilo fair.

“These fairs are an important step in rebuilding the lives of those displaced,” said Alain Decoux, who runs the CHF in DRC. “While they wait to return home, we want to rebuild the sense of empowerment and responsibility over their lives.”

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