Tag Archives: Lubao

Humanitarian Logistics in a Nutshell – Part 5a: Construction and Rehabilitation

Depending on the organisations by which they’re employed, and the projects to which they’re assigned, humanitarian logisticians may become involved in construction or rehabilitation projects. People with civil engineering backgrounds and some management experience often make very good humanitarian logisticians for this reason. I studied international relations, politics, and French for my bachelor’s degree, and humanitarian work for my master’s degree, but I used to party with civil engineers (and all the other kinds of engineers) at UBC so I can pretend that I know a bit about all this stuff.

This is a typical centre de santé (health centre) supported by Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) in Obosango which is in the Lubutu health zone of Maniema Province in the DR Congo:

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This is a maternity which is in the final stages of being rehabilitated by Merlin in Osso, which is also in Lubutu health zone. The funding for the rehabilitation came from JOAC (Jersey Overseas Aid Commission), while funding for the medical support (drugs and medical equipment, trainings, staff incentives, etc) for almost all of Merlin’s activities in Maniema comes from DFID (the UK Department for International Development).

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The facilities in Osso, as you can see from the previous two photos, are a notch above those in Obasango. If there was money to rehabilitate the more than two dozen structures in the Lubutu and Obokote health zones, it would probably be done, but with the funding available two structures were chosen for rehabilitation and two for construction from scratch. These buildings are built using fairly simple construction methods.

Sand and gravel are donated by local communities and transported by Merlin to the construction sites, where cement powder provided by Merlin is mixed with the sand, gravel, and water to make cement for the foundations. Sand:

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For the walls of the buildings, clay soil is donated by local communities and turned into bricks using brick presses, then baked in brick ovens like this one:

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Once the bricks are ready, the walls start going up along the contours of the foundation as in this maternity being built from scratch in Omoyaki, in Obokote health zone of Maniema:

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The brickwork for the Kabakaba maternity starting to go up:

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This is the maternity in Mukwanyama, which is nearly finished being rehabilitated:

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Once the building is finished, the brick walls are covered with cement-based plaster, then painted. The second photo in this post shows what the plastered and painted walls look like at the end.

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At each structure supported by Merlin, a signboard is erected to let people know what the building is for, and who is helping support it:

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Of course, there are many, many problems that come up with building or rehabilitating buildings in places like the DR Congo. For example, the community usually needs to help with a certain amount of free labour. Sand, gravel, and clay are needed and if these were not donated by local villages the work would be far more difficult. Communities don’t always understand the usefulness of a health centre, and may even oppose the disruption that construction or rehabilitation can cause to their villages. Various levels of local government may try to impose harsh restrictions that prevent NGOs from working efficiently. If construction workers, masons, and roofers are brought in to do some of the work, the local community may become upset that local villagers are not being given the opportunity for paid employment to work on the project. When community members are responsible for part of the project, such a making and baking the bricks, they may simply not do it because they feel they need to spend their days tending their crops.

For all of these reasons, and many more, construction and rehabilitation projects can easily stumble or even fail completely. The two foundation photos of Omoyaki and Kabakaba (above), for instance, show halted works – the villagers had stopped working several weeks before for a number of reasons. In the photo below, the foundation of the Lubao centre de santé in Kailo health zone is barely visible. All that greenery you see is growing where the floor should be. This foundation has lain untouched for two years.

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In order to avoid problems like this, and to keep construction and rehabilitation projects moving along, a lot of community sensitisation is necessary. Staff members are needed to explain the importance of health for the local populace. These community sensitisers spend time in villages, often staying several nights at a time, motivating the community. With good sensitisers, the work tends to go relatively smoothly, and the sensitisation continues even after the buildings are completed so that the population actually uses them too.

Humanitarian Logistics in a Nutshell – Part 1: Transport

When an aid agency is running a program in a community, the program invariably requires the transport of people and goods from place to place to meet the needs of the community in question. This can range from small projects needing only a very small amount of supplies delivered to them from the nearest big city by road, right up to massive famine relief operations transporting hundreds of tonnes of food by cargo plane each day from warehouses far away.

This Ilyushin 76 strategic airlifter plane is being used to transport large quantities of supplies to various MONUC bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These planes have a capacity of around 45 tonnes! Incidentally, passengers in an Il-76 run by a different company a few years ago in DRC experienced a rather strange event.

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When Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin) responded to the 2010 Haïti earthquake by setting up an emergency reconstructive surgery centre on a tennis court in Port-au-Prince, we had to send many tonnes of supplies from Europe to make it all possible. Thomas Cook Airlines donated free cargo space aboard some of their flights to the Dominican Republic, right next door to Haïti, so we loaded huge air pallets at Gatwick and Manchester airports with tonnes and tonnes of medical equipment. Air transport is very expensive, so the free cargo space was a lifesaver in the literal sense of the word.

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In more remote locations, when air transport is needed, only very small planes or helicopters can be used. A small Let L-410A airplane can carry around 2 tonnes of cargo if there are no passengers on board, and land on dirt airstrips or straight sections of road.

Medical supplies being transported by a Busy Bee Congo Let L-410A aircraft in Maniema Province:

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Offloading medical supplies at the Punia-Basenge dirt airstrip to a waiting Merlin LandCruiser:

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This is the Let L-410A landing at Tingi-Tingi Airport in Lubutu, which is actually just a straight section of the road that links Lubutu and Walikale. Before each landing, Merlin staff check the road and block it at both ends. The pilot does a loop over the road to see for himself that it’s safe to land, then comes down out of the sky and taxis over to our waiting vehicles to offload equipment and drugs and have a friendly chat.

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Land transport is really important for aid agencies as well. In a place like Canada, land transport consists of huge trucks, big trucks, medium trucks, small trucks, cars, and sometimes trains. In the places where aid agencies work, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the options are occasionally big trucks, sometimes medium trucks, often pickup trucks and 4×4 vehicles such as Toyota LandCruisers, motorcycles, bicycles, and occasionally other contraptions like oxcarts.

This is an AWD (all wheel drive) medium-sized truck used to transport medical supplies to our projects in North Kivu province:

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One of our 4×4 LandCruiser pickups used in Lubutu to transport people and supplies all over the place:

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To transport several dozen mattresses from our Kindu office to clinics supported by our Pangi office we hired tolékistes, cyclists who transport things on roads that are not passable, or close to impassable, for vehicles. Often they walk the entire way, pushing the loaded bicycle along narrow forest paths and through mud that can be knee high in places. These men below pedaled and pushed about 140km over several days and all the mattresses arrived at their destination intact.

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When goods need to be shipped long distances without a rush, an alternative to expensive airfreight is seafreight. For instance, when setting up a program in Haïti, it soon became apparent that Merlin would need to purchase a few LandCruisers to get around the country. Logistics staff at head office in London arranged the purchase with a company based in Gibraltar, which arranged to ship them by sea from Gibraltar to Haïti for us to pick them up.

In some countries, aid agencies use boats on a smaller scaled, such as when moving around the Irrawaddy Delta in Burma, or transporting goods from place to place within DRC, where there are rivers everywhere. For instance, we transported about 30 bags of cement, each weighing 50kg, in a motorised pirogue from Kindu to Lubao along the Congo River (known along this stretch as the Lualaba River). A pirogue is a traditional canoe commonly used in the Congo, made by hollowing out a tree. On the right of this photo there’s something that looks like a spear, but it’s actually the paddle used for one of the smaller pirogues.

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There are other ways of transporting things in the places where aid agencies work, some of which really show the ingenuity of the people involved, and I’m sure in the years to come I’ll be able to post some photos of creative transport solutions in tough situations.