The latest example of fine UN efficiency
KIBATI, Congo (AP) — Refugees who haven't eaten for days cheered when the first humanitarian convoy in a week arrived Monday at their camp, but the jubilation turned into anger when U.N. workers dumped soap and jerry cans instead of food and sped on past rebel lines.Jesus said, If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Few could fulfill this like the UN.
U.N. officials admit hunger at the Kibati camp, where tens of thousands of refugees have sought safety, is dire but say their first priority is resupplying clinics looted by retreating government troops.
"Are we supposed to eat this?" asked Boniface Ndayumujinya, an elderly man who waved a bundle of spring onions delivered by a friend. He said he was with eight family members who had had nothing to eat in five days.
U.N. peacekeepers escorted the 12-vehicle aid convoy carrying medical supplies north from the provincial capital of Goma, past Kibati, and beyond rebel lines to Rutshuru, a village 55 miles (88 kilometers) north of Goma.
Both the Congolese army and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda assured the convoy's safe passage, said Gloria Fernandez, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in eastern Congo.
Medical supplies and tablets to purify water were the priority in this shipment, she said, adding that another convoy on Tuesday would be bringing food for some of the 250,000 refugees displaced by fighting in this central African nation.
She said health clinics north of Goma have been "looted and completely destroyed," leaving the Rutshuru hospital as the only operating medical facility in a region of hundreds of thousands of people.
The soap and plastic jerry cans for water distributed in Kibati on Monday were meant to help with sanitation amid fears of a cholera epidemic.
Food, however, was the critical issue for most people.
"Everybody is hungry, everybody," said Jean Bizy, a 25-year-old teacher who watched with envy as the U.N. convoy stopped to deliver a sack of potatoes to U.N. troops in Rugari. Bizy said he has been surviving on wild bananas for days.
Onesphore Sematumba, of local think tank Pole Institute, watched with horror as thousands of children lined up in the sun for hours at the Kibati camp to get tokens that will allow them to queue for high-energy biscuits.
The children thought they were waiting for the biscuits.
"We really need to re-think humanitarian aid," Sematumba said. "If you can't help people, don't create false hopes."
U.N. officials said the token system was necessary because of the unrest that broke out when aid workers tried to distribute biscuits directly.
I'm probably the most fastidious person in the world about washing thoroughly before I eat, so I extol the importance of soap as much as anyone. But what good will it do these refugees, who can look forward to literal starvation with clean hands? What good does sanitation do them?
The reasoning behind the "token system" is completely absurd. If there will be "unrest" when people directly receive biscuits, there will surely be unrest in the second round when people actually receive the biscuits. And isn't their desperation understandable? They're hungry, and it's greatly exacerbated because the people expected to bring food are instead bringing soap!
However, there's probably a sinister sort of logic behind making people stand in line twice: I suppose the crowds will be far more manageable when half of them don't survive to queue a second time.