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When Disaster Aid Never Finds Its Victims

In Congo, too often aid gets diverted from those most needy to those best connected. The devastating rains this spring were a tragic case in point.

Article illustrative image Partner logo True helping hands are needed in Congo (Julien Harneis)

SANGE - Those most in need of disaster aid are not necessarily the ones who are receiving it in South Kivu, Congo, where some local authorities are distributing aid to their friends and family. Meanwhile, NGOs too often turn a blind eye.

Back in May, the playground of Rutanga primary school, in the middle of Sange in South Kivu was crowded one morning with men and women, all clutching bags and baskets.  Forming long queues, they waited for kitchen utensils, tarpaulin and cloths from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an international NGO working to help victims of the torrential rains that had devastated the town. More than 1,900 houses had their roofs collapse or swept away by the rains that struck the Democratic Republic of Congo last March and April. 

"What shocks me is that people, my neighbors in fact, have been given aid even though they weren't affected by the disaster," said Adolphe Kizungu, a resident of the Rutunga area whose roof was swept away in March. This time, the actual victim went home empty-handed.

Twenty kilometers to the south, in Kiliba, a similar situation arose at the end of April when the river broke its banks and swept away nearby houses.  "Sheet metal should be given to us, but the leader of the village gave half of the materials to non-victims and the other half just disappeared," says Nizi Ngoma, a Berute resident who has been homeless since the floods. 

Kizungu notes that in the Ruzizi plain, in the territory of Uvira, disaster aid is being stolen more and more often since the explosion of an oil-tanker in Sange in 2010, which caused more than 300 deaths and saw thousands of donations flood in.

Good will, wasted

Aid is coming from international organizations or people of good will who think that it will reach the victims through the authorities. But these very authorities are abusing their power by providing for those that have not been affected or by sharing the donations with members of their family.

"Our detractors are trying to cause trouble." According to Bimka Kambiningi, the benefactors must share some of the responsibility, by directly identifying the victims. Instead, "they're demanding the leaders to draft up lists of disaster victims. Then the leaders of the town are telling the authorities to put down some of their friends' names." 

For Moïse Masaro, a resident of Sange, the leaders, who are mostly farmers, are not being paid by the Congolese state. "So they can't miss an opportunity to take some of the goods to sell them on and get some money!" This, he says, helps explain the lack of both a sense of solidarity and patriotism.

Members of the administration, like Masasika Aramba, says that these dealings usually happen behind their backs.  "Only organizations identify their beneficiaries," he says. "Those who are trying to cause trouble are spreading false information." 

The leader of the Kibogoye area in Sange says it is certain aid workers go home with supplies rather than giving them to those that need them. A security officer working for the IRC in South Kivu confirms this, adding that the aid workers are working with the local leaders to squander supplies. He deplores the fact that the victims will not denounce him out of fear that they will be punished because, as he says, "these are only rumors, we don't have the proof to back it up. Discreet investigation will take place with the next delivery of aid," he assures.

"In Sange like in Kiliba, some residents are staying clear of community work as of December 2011," notes the leader of the Rutanga area. Some don't hesitate to call on the leaders who are benefiting from the NGO donations. "Sometimes, households band together to give servicemen flour, but some of them protest.  They don't have any trust or respect for the leaders any more," notes B. Kambiningi. 

Guy Murhula, supervisor for another NGO explains: "We have created committees to identify the residents in Sange and to gather information on the flood victims," he says. "Some 1,400 have already received goats and seeds."

Read the original article from Syfia in French.

Photo - Julien Harneis

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