By Guy Hubbard
MIKETO CAMP, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 12 April 2012 – The sun beats down mercilessly on the Miketo Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), but the people still wait patiently for their names to be called.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on an innovative aid distribution system for families displaced by the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Watch in RealPlayer|
One by one, they are called to a table where, after their identities are confirmed, they receive pages of coupons that will help them settle into life here.
Mankaza Kaubwa is standing in line. She is one of nearly 70,000 people who fled recent fighting in South Kivu to the camps of Katanga province.
“Soldiers from Rwanda came through our village,” she explains. “They tied up the men, and I was beaten with sticks. We couldn't resist them, so we fled.”
The cycle of violence in the Eastern DR Congo is nothing new. For around 15 years, armed groups have waged war here. Caught in the middle, civilians have been robbed, raped, mutilated and murdered. Those that can, flee.
But here, at Miketo, Ms. Kaubwa and others are starting over. And to help them, UNICEF is supporting an innovative system to distribute essential household supplies and, at the same time, empower families and local communities.
|© UNICEF VIDEO|
|Mankhaza Kaubwa presents a vendor with vouchers, part of the innovative 'IDP fair' system for distributing goods to displaced families in Miketo camp, Democratic Republic of the Congo.|
Distributing essential supplies
UNICEF and partners have long provided displaced families with basic household, personal and hygiene items, critical to their daily activities. The sourcing, transporting and distribution of such items has always been a huge logistical undertaking, but in 2008 UNICEF and partners developed a market approach that has become the preferred means of distribution.
“The basic idea is pretty simple,” explained UNICEF Emergency Specialist Steven Michel. “Instead of getting the standard relief kit – a kit of standard items like cooking pots, blankets, clothing – the families receive the equivalent value in coupons that are denominated in different amounts of currency. And they come into the fair, and it’s just like a regular local market. There’s about 50 traders there; they’ve brought a vast array of items, much more than we could possibly provide in the standard kit, and then they’re allowed to haggle for prices, pick and choose what they want for their family.”
When Ms. Kaubwa reaches the table, she provides an identity document proving she lives in the camp. Then, because she can't read or write, she marks the receipt with a fingerprint and receives a sheet of coupons.
Once inside the market, she separates the coupons into different amounts and prepares to shop. The one thing she really needs is a mattress. She fled her home with nothing and, since coming to the camp, has been sleeping on the ground with just grass and a blanket to cushion her. She moves from stall to stall looking for the best buy.
|© UNICEF VIDEO|
|Mankhaza Kaubwa buys a mattress at the 'IDP fair' in Miketo camp, Democratic Republic of the Congo.|
The system, called an ‘IDP fair’, benefits everyone. Displaced families have the freedom to choose and bargain for what they feel they need the most. Meanwhile, local traders – who are usually overlooked when agencies purchase bulk non-food items from overseas suppliers – get customers, and, if their prices are right, sales. The traders can exchange the coupons they've earned for the cash equivalent at the end of each day. And for UNICEF and its partners, the fairs are often a cheaper, more efficient way of helping those most in need.
“We think of it as a win-win-win situation,” says Michel. “For one, the families choose themselves what they want… They're taking an active role in their own assistance, deciding what they want and what they need in their families. The second thing is that the money that is being spent is being spent directly in the local economy through inviting these local vendors to the fairs. The other thing is that it’s also cheaper per beneficiary for the humanitarian organizations.”
Ms. Kaubwa finds a mattress at the right price. She pays in coupons and then continues on, searching for material to make clothes. Others buy suitcases for their belongings; some indulge in the luxury of a radio, while others invest in kitchenware.
Whatever their choices, the fair brings a sense of independence, freedom and normality to a place where these critical qualities are in perpetually short supply.