Dungu, Province Orientale, DR Congo

After the first two weeks spent in Faradje, the next month of my recent contract in the Democratic Republic of Congo was spent based out of Dungu. The iconic landmark of the town is Dungu Castle:

Dungu Castle

Among expat aid workers, the weekly MSF “soirée pizza” is an important event, during which many pizzas are created, cooked, and consumed. The brick pizza oven has to be heated for some time before the first pizza can be put in to cook:

MSF Dungu pizza oven

Guests take turns preparing pizzas of all imaginable varieties. Once each pizza is ready to be eaten, someone cuts it into pieces and within seconds a dozen or more hands thrust forward, trying to grab a magical slice. A cooked pizza rarely lasts more than one minute on the cutting board.

Eating pizza

One night, a bunch of us were invited to the house of Invisible Children, where we had a “soirée québécoise” complete with poutine, pineapple covered in maple syrup, and a campfire to roast marshmallows! While I may have issues with the organisation, I can definitely vouch for the warm welcome and cooking abilities of their staff in Dungu.

Marshmallows over the campfire with Invisible Children in Dungu, DR Congo

Of course, it’s not all fun and games… I was in the DR Congo for emergency measles vaccinations after all! In Dungu, we often had crowds of children waiting for their turn at vaccination sites:

Rachel at a vaccination site in Dungu, DR Congo

These are the sharps boxes we use to collect the needles used in the vaccination campaign. They were taped up and then burned in an incinerator.

Sharps boxes ready for burning in Dungu, DR Congo

After the vaccination campaign ended, we on the emergency team had to load up all the stuff we’d brought with us and send it to Bunia. Among many, many other things, we had to wash and dry the big blue cold boxes we’d used to keep the vaccines cold:

Drying out the RCW25 cold boxes after washing

The first truck that the transport company brought us wasn’t very big. We loaded this MF314 freezer first, then a bunch of other stuff, and eventually the transporter agreed that the truck was too small.

Loading an MF314 freezer onto a truck in Dungu, DR Congo

The next morning, February 24th, he brought a much bigger truck. I then organised the loading of the bigger truck, and after a few hours the tarps were on and the truck was ready to head to Bunia:

Tying down the tarps on a truck in Dungu, DR Congo

To make Alan jealous, I also got to drive the truck:

Driving the truck to make Alan jealous

Later that afternoon, just before most of us boarded a plane for Bunia, we took a team photo at Dungu Wando Airstrip:

Emergency measles vaccination team photo, Dungu Wando Airstrip, DR Congo

I got to sit up front and spend the entire time chatting with Dave, our pilot, through the headsets we both wore. I asked him tonnes of questions about the plane, about the instruments and gauges on the dash, about his flying experience and personal life, and a bunch of other topics. It was really neat!

Dave, our friendly and skilled pilot from Dungu to Bunia, DR Congo
First class on a Cessna 208 Caravan I

The scenery was pretty cool, especially as we got closer to Bunia, flying over mountains that reminded me of the flights I took between Goma and Beni in 2010.

Mountains just outside Bunia, DR Congo

The outskirts of Bunia, from the air:

River in the outskirts of Bunia, DR Congo

Coming in for landing at Bunia Murongo National Airport:

Landing at Bunia Murongo National Airport, DR Congo

Once we landed, we had to clear customs (even though we didn’t leave the country, we had to have our documents checked and stamped each time we arrived in a town). I was at the back of the line with a Danish guy who speaks Swedish too, so we spent about twenty minutes chatting in Swedish as the line moved very slowly along. All in all, a great day!

Disclaimer: The postings and views expressed on this site are mine alone, and do not represent the position or values of Médecins Sans Frontières.

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.


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.


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:


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


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.


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:


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


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.


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.


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.