The International Committee of the Red Cross has begun the distribution of seed, agricultural and fishing tools to some 35,000 people in Equateur province, a remote region in northern Democratic Republic of Congo. The aid will allow tens of thousands of people in the town of Dongo and the surrounding area to plant their crops in time for the next harvest in November.
Almost the entire town of Dongo, some 100,000 people, fled ethnic clashes that erupted in October. The violence between rival tribal groups erupted over farming and fishing rights.
Most people fled to the neighboring Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. But, tens of thousands have remained in the DRC and several thousands have returned to Dongo to try to pick up their lives as best they can.
Red Cross Spokeswoman, Nicole Engelbrecht, says both the returnees and the displaced are in dire need of help.
"They did not have the possibility to plant seeds due to the violence that broke out there in October of last year," she said. "So, they have a hard time providing for themselves. A lot of the infrastructure such as schools, health centers and the markets were partly destroyed by looters over the past few months. So, it is really a difficult situation that, indeed, very few people know about and not very many talk about."
Englebrecht says many people would like to return to Dongo, but are discouraged from doing so because of the damage done to their homes.
She says it is very important to help people reconstruct their houses. So, the ICRC plans to employ local workmen to repair 1,000 houses.
"We pay people to construct the houses, maybe people from other families who do not have the same problems," she said. "And, then they on their behalf, they can invest the money they earn for something else they might need. So, this whole system boosts the local economy. There are two groups of people who benefit from reconstructing their houses. The people who will eventually live in them again and those who are paid for rebuilding the houses."
The Red Cross seed distribution operation will benefit 25,000 people. The organization also will provide 2,000 fishermen with fishing equipment to replace that which was looted so they can resume their trade.
Besides this, Englebrecht says the Red Cross is working to restore contact between family members who became separated during the violence.
She says two children already have been reunited with their parents, and seven others living in the neighboring Republic of the Congo are waiting to rejoin their families in the DRC.
She says the ICRC currently is trying to track down the parents of more than 130 children in Equateur province who became separated from them.