Tag Archives: Maniema

Humanitarian Logitsics in a Nutshell – Part 4: Water

Water is generally considered the most important thing for human survival, so it makes sense that water plays a central part in humanitarian work. Humanitarian agencies need water for their staff and their projects, and the people they try to help need water to survive and maintain their health. Medical organisations and local hospitals and health clinics need large amounts of water to maintain a sanitary working environment.

Locating water sources, treating water that isn’t fit to drink, storing water, and distributing water are all jobs that frequently come under the responsibilities of a humanitarian logistician. Here are a few photos that show a little bit about water:

Storing water can be difficult. One method is to construct water towers, or place large tanks on stilts. The reason for putting them way up high is to allow for distribution using the natural pull of gravity. If the water storage points are at ground level, pumps are needed all the time for distribution. With tanks way up high, pumps are only needed to fill the tank. This water tower supplies water to the hospital in Kindu, the capital of Maniema province in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

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Another form of water storage is a water bladder. This is basically just a big bag, which can be transported on a flatbed truck from the filling point to the distribution point. They can be punctured, which means they need to be carefully placed. This bladder at the MSF-Belgium hospital in Lubutu, DRC is hooked up to a hose with a valve. The bladder is on a raised platform in order to use gravity to pump the water through the hose when needed.

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On a much smaller scale, water can be filtered and stored in filters like the one in the photo below. Water (preferably boiled and cooled) is put into the top half and the lid is put back on. There are ‘candles’ made of some sort of porous material in the top half, and in order for the water to get to the bottom half, it has to pass through these candles. The porous material filters out all the bad stuff, and drinking water comes out the little tap at the bottom. These filters can have from one up to five candle filters in them, and each candle can filter about one litre of water per hour. So the larger models with five candles can produce about five litres per hour. We usually use these for expat staff houses as well.

The water filter on the shelf in this photo is in a health clinic supported by Merlin in the Lubutu health zone in Maniema province, DRC:

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Water has to come from somewhere. Natural springs, groundwater, and wells are common sources of water for humanitarian projects. Rainwater can also be a source of water depending on the location and season. While people often use surface water such as lake water and river water for their needs, this has a much higher likelihood of causing health problems because of the low quality of surface water.

This is a natural groundwater source that was rehabilitated by Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) in a community called Pu Muzika in Obokote, DRC. The water source was already being used, but Merlin dug up the soil and created a natural filter using various sizes of gravel and sand, then covered it over again. They also created this concrete enclosure with a concrete storage tank and water pipes. The slab of concrete on top of the tank can be removed in order to insert chlorine to treat the water. This is done every few months, and the water that comes out of the three pipes is as good as anything that comes out of a Canadian tap.

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This is a water pump that pulls water up out of a well in the Sanzasili community of Lubutu, DRC. It was also a Merlin project. Note the concrete block at the base of the metal pump:

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This photo was taken a week before the previous photo. Note the lack of that concrete block. Over time, the force exerted on the pump had worn away at the concrete that held the pump in place. It then fell a couple feet into the well. The community used bricks to prop it up in order to keep using it:

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We were informed of the problem, and immediately went to the site to assess the damage and make an action plan to fix it. In addition to the pump issue, we found that we could barely get to the pump without falling into the mud. I barely managed with a few long leaps, but there’s no way it could be done with a 20kg jerrycan of water. The community members coming to get water were wading through mud that could go up nearly to their knees! They reported health problems associated with this, including ticks.

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We decided that, in addition to fixing the pump itself, we needed to make the water source more accessible to the community. To fix the pump problem, our rehabilitation officer made a rebar (the iron used to reinforce cement) cage and placed it around the pump, then put a wooden box around that. The wood held the pump at the correct height, and on a chosen day when the community knew the water would be temporarily unavailable, cement was poured into the wooden box. The ratio of cement powder to sand was much higher in this mix than usual, to create a really solid block.

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Mike, the project coordinator, told the rehabilitation officer that within 5 days he wanted to return to the site and walk all the way to the pump without getting his shoes wet. In order to make this possible, truckloads of laterite soil were transported from another community, and daily workers filled sacks with the soil and placed them in a row where they had cleared the brush.

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To deal with a small stream that was contributing to the mud swamp, a very strong bridge was built (there’s no point trying to stop water, as water will almost always win a fight against humans; it’s much better to find ways to get around/over it than to try to stop/divert it).

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Once the sacks of laterite have all been filled and placed, loose laterite will be placed on top so the sacks won’t be visible anymore, and the path won’t be slippery even in wet weather.

Sadly I have no photos of rainwater collection methods. Rainwater is collected at the Merlin Lubutu expat house, as it runs off the roof into gutters which feed into a 1000L water tank. When it’s been raining, the water coming out of the tap is clear. If it hasn’t rained in a while, water is brought from the Moyo River and pumped into the tank. This water is brown and has stuff floating in it. In this photo, water has been brought from the Moyo River to the office and is being pumped from a 1000L tank into barrels using the little diesel water pump in the bottom right corner:

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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.

Home in Kindu, Democratic Republic of Congo

My home in Kindu is relatively comfortable. For my first month and a bit in Kindu, I stayed in the biggest room in our house, but it was boiling hot in there day and night. In April I moved all my stuff to one of the two rooms in a small separated annex. There’s a lot more shade over the roof of this room, so the air in the room is actually colder than the air outside during the daytime.

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The mosquito net in this room is green and not big enough for the bed, so I often wake up with my feet sticking well out of the net with a few mosquito bites:

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We have two staff members who share kitchen duties. When one has a day off, the other is working, and some days they work together. Mama Walou plucking the feathers off a decapitated chicken in our kitchen:

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Papa Rama pounding garlic cloves:

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On occasion, non-kitchen staff decide to use the kitchen as well. Catherine, who takes care of our finances, makes terrific banana loaf every once in a while:

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We also have a few cats around, though the population is starting to dwindle. One of these three kittens sleeping in the small garbage bin has already been taken to a new home, and another should be gone soon:

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On the grounds of our home, we have a papaya tree, a red avocado tree (a red-skinned, sweet, and tart apple/pear type fruit with white flesh and a big seed like an avocado, hence the local appelation), and a grapefruit tree:

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Before bed each night I try to read at least 27 pages of one of the books I brought with me, as I brought 4884 pages of reading for 180 days. Most nights there’s some sort of music or drumming that continues late into the night, which doesn’t bother me at all. Sometimes we get a rainstorm that helps me sleep better than normal. Many mornings, a bell is rung more than 20 times around 6am, which I am told is somehow related to a local church which I’ve never seen but already very much dislike. At 7am, it’s time to get out of bed for breakfast and head to the office in time for 8am, the start of the working day.

Kindu Paradise

I’ve now been in Maniema Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for two months of a six month humanitarian logistics placement with Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin). Most of the past two months has been spent in the small city (large town?) of Kindu. Kindu is on the Congo River (though at this point in its epic journey toward the Atlantic Ocean, it’s known as the Lualaba), with a small part of the city on the east bank of the river and the vast majority spread along and away from the west side of the river:

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On the way from the MONUC-controlled airport into Kindu, visitors are greeted by a big sign that says in French, “The revolutionary city of Kindu welcomes you”

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Here’s a map of the eastern part of DRC with Maniema Province in white and Kindu in the middle:

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Kindu’s roads are mostly dirt roads which aren’t in terrific condition, but they’re far better than the ridiculously bad roads in expat-saturated / NGO-saturated Goma. This is looking toward our home just after the car in the distance, on the left hidden behind some trees:

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Looking north along the main drag in “downtown” Kindu:

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Looking south along the main drag, with the MONUC headquarters on the right and the Catholic cathedral in the distance:

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When I first arrived in Kindu, it was still rainy season so rainstorms and lightning were pretty much daily occurrences. At our house, we have a paillotte (think gazebo with straw roof), which offers relatively good protection against the downpours:

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We collect rainwater in a 1000 Litre plastic tank, because the city water doesn’t always work so we need a backup supply. Of course it doesn’t work very well with the lid closed, so a minute after this photo, I opened it:

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There are also cats which appear cute in this photo but in reality are very annoying and catch no rats:

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And there are loads of toads:

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Our office is behind the MONUC headquarters:

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There are also palm trees at the office and a moon in the background:

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As I mentioned at the start of the post, Kindu straddles the Congo River. To cross, the vast majority of people take pirogues. A pirogue is a sort of canoe made by hollowing out a tree trunk. Most are human-powered, with long paddles that seem like oversized spears. Some have Honda outboard motors and charge a bit more for the crossing. They range in size from a capacity of one boatman and zero passengers up to a hundred passengers. Sadly, the biggest pirogue capsized a couple weeks ago, drowning the majority of the passengers on board the overloaded vessel.

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There are two watering holes where the few expats in Kindu, and some upper class Congolese, go for the occasional afternoon beer looking out over the water: Le Palmier which has been flooded since March by the high river…

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…and Vero Beach which is only partly underwater and offers some nice sunset views out over the river:

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April 28th was my birthday, so a fellow intern named Steve made me a Pringles cake (Pringles are a real luxury in Kindu!) and gave me a coconut which was deeelicious!

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Although a Google search for Kindu brings up a few negative reviews, and Tim Butcher wrote rather dismissively of his 2004 visit to the city in his poorly written travel diary Blood river, in fact Kindu in 2010 is a quiet but pleasant city. Some might even call it paradise:

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