As the south-central Kasai region emerges from devastating conflict, a World Food Program project offers hope for broader change in one of the DRC’s most food-insecure areas
November 10, 2021, Elizabeth Bryant
Early in the morning, sunlight shimmers on the 136 solar panels parading on the roof of Kananga’s newest building, as horns sound in traffic below where a man pushes a wheelbarrow down the dusty street below.
The humanitarian guest house of the World Food Program (WFP), in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a feat of green engineering that can serve as a model for similar initiatives elsewhere.
Largely funded by Sweden, the project was launched in October.
Today, as the Kasai region, central-south of the country, slowly emerges from the particularly brutal conflict of 2016-17, when 1.4 million people were displaced, leaving fields fallow and famine, home hosts also embodies greater hopes.
That is, WFP and its partners can move from short-term crisis response to supporting government to create a vibrant and prosperous region.
Indeed, a sign of the fragile stability that is taking hold, the UN MONUSCO peacekeepers left the area in June.
Aside from conflicts, climatic shocks, the increase in crop-destroying pests, the fallout from several Ebola outbreaks and the economic impact of COVID-19 have all helped reduce food production and worsen hunger and poverty in the DRC in recent years. It is home to the largest number of internally displaced people in Africa – 5.5 million people – as well as half a million refugees from neighboring countries.
“The work we have done so far here has helped save lives,” said Peter Musoko, WFP DRC representative and country director, who attended the inauguration of the guesthouse with dignitaries. locals and the Swedish Ambassador to the DRC, Henric Rasbrant.
“Now we have to move from a job that saves lives to a job that changes life,” adds Musoko. “This building represents how we are going to move forward – working together.”
Welcoming aid workers from various agencies, the guesthouse is located on land donated by the local government. Its construction and maintenance have generated jobs and boosted the local economy.
The sparkling solar panels atop the blue-and-white building offer another big plus: renewable energy in a region plagued by continuous blackouts.
Designed and installed in partnership with a company based in the city of Goma, in eastern DRC, the solar power system offers the dual advantage of investing locally and avoiding the expensive carbon footprint of flying with a foreign expertise. The 90 kilovolt-amperes (kVA) system not only powers the 12-room guesthouse, complete with a kitchen, showers and a small gym, but also provides 24-hour battery backup. .
“This is the first time that we have done this kind of project on such a scale in the DRC,” said Callan Murray Hocking, WFP’s engineering manager in the country. “This is a good example of what can be achieved by working with the private sector in the fight against climate change.
“The WFP solar system in Kananga is probably one of the best I have seen in the world,” says Martin Sjoholm, of the Swedish Civilian Contingency Agency, MSB, who managed the overall construction of the house in the area. ‘hosts. “If we can copy and paste this solution to fit any construction project, it could become a standard. ”
However, finding lasting solutions to hunger for the three-province Kasai region can prove more difficult.
WFP’s longer-term plans include working with partners and the government to significantly scale up its school feeding program, an effective tool to fight child hunger and increase school attendance. Another priority for WFP is to partner with FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and others to implement resilience building projects targeting smallholder farmers and farmers. rural communities.
Such initiatives aim to help reverse alarming statistics on hunger in the Kasais – even for the DRC, considered the world’s biggest food crisis, with 27 million people severely food insecure, of whom 6.1 millions a step away from famine during IPC4, or from the emergency on the integrated plan. Classification of the food phase.
More than half of Kasai’s population is facing crisis or above hunger levels. In Kasai-Central province alone, about half of all children under 5 are stunted due to malnutrition.
In a health center a short drive from the new guesthouse, Solange Malu cradles her baby, Jean, as she watches a nurse wrap a malnutrition measuring tape around her stick-thin arm. He is only 8 months old, but severe malnutrition makes him look half that age.
“I didn’t know he was sick until the health worker told me,” she says.
Wife of an artisanal diamond miner from neighboring Kasai province, Malu only recently arrived in Kananga, after falling ill herself. She stays with her family and receives nutritional treatment at this WFP-supported clinic run by Carmelite missionaries.
“I had no way to pay the health care costs at home,” she says, “so I came here”.
“Malnutrition in this region is not just due to poverty,” says Jules Mukengela, a WFP nutrition officer covering the Kasai-Central region. He lists a range of other reasons, including early marriages that leave young mothers unequipped to properly care for their infants. “It’s also because of the lack of knowledge about what healthy eating is.”
Stimulating agriculture, which remains the region’s main source of food and income, is also essential for changing diets. He took a hit with the conflict. Meanwhile, the DRC’s crumbling road and rail networks have limited exports and growth and pushed up the prices of imported food.
“I need to cultivate more to feed my family,” says Joseph Kalonzo, a farmer and father of six, who grows pistachios, peanuts and corn on a windy and crevassed road outside Kananga. “We have peace, but we need more support to work better. ”
Kalonzo’s concerns suggest the Kananga guesthouse will be in demand for the foreseeable future. But WFP’s Musoko is waiting for the day he doesn’t.
He says: “If we get it right, in a few years the people of Kasai will no longer need WFP support to move forward. And this is a result worth achieving.
WFP plans to reach 8.7 million people in DRC this year with food, nutrition and cash assistance, nearly 2 million more than last year, despite an extremely difficult operating environment. The organization needs $ 99 million until April 2022 to reach those in the DRC who need our support the most.
Learn more about WFP’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo