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:
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).
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:
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:
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:
The brickwork for the Kabakaba maternity starting to go up:
This is the maternity in Mukwanyama, which is nearly finished being rehabilitated:
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.
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:
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.
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.