Changing lives with one swipe in DRC
In Democratic Republic of Congo where 3.9 million people are now displaced, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has, with the help of the EU humanitarian funds, introduced a new distribution system for assistance to people displaced by conflict. Displaced families are given electronic voucher cards enabling them to choose which foods and household items they want. NRC has been pioneering the e-Vouchers as a way of providing a rapid response to population movements due to the continuing fighting.
As the mid-day sun appears between the clouds, Kahanbu Mastayabo, 26, unfolds an umbrella to protect her five-month-old daughter, Esther, tied to her back, from the scorching rays. The young mother and her husband, Muhinto Meso, 23, are doing their shopping at a dusty, bustling market at the outskirts of Kanyabayonga, a small town in eastern DR Congo. The couples stop at a small booth.
“Let’s buy some of this oil,” Kahanbu suggests to her husband.
They agree on five litres of palm oil and pass their electronic payment card to the trader, who swipes the card on a scanner on the back of a smartphone. $3.79 USD is subtracted from the card and Kahanbu taps her personal code on the screen to confirm the purchase.
Markets in the conflict-ridden North Kivu province in DR Congo are not normally this technologically advanced. The allocation of electronic cards and setting-up of a market place have been organised by the NRC after an assessment of the situation of newly displaced families by the organisation’s emergency response teams.
“These e-Vouchers have many advantages,” says Jose Kibasubwamo, 52, one of several local traders with a palm oil stall at the market. “Compared to paper vouchers, the electronic system is much more secure and precise, and by the end of the day it is easy and fast to calculate how much we have sold and then sort our payment with NRC,” explains the trader with a big smile. He has left the operation of the smartphone to her oldest daughter who seems more comfortable with such modern devices.
A New Kind of Payment
Two improvised market streets are occupying most of Kanyabayonga’s football field – the only place in Kanyabayonga’s hilly landscape that is sufficiently large and flat to accommodate more than 6000 families. One street is lined with small food stalls, while the other street has booths with household items such as mattresses, clothing, shoes, radios, and solar chargers. The selection of goods has been chosen through meetings between NRC and the beneficiaries themselves.
Kahanbu Mastayabo and her family have finished today’s shopping and pass through the exit gate, where NRC staff check their e-Voucher card to confirm that the allocated amount of $55 for the family has been fully utilised. The family are loaded up with a mattress, a blanket, beans, palm oil, cassava roots, fruits, and soap.
“This kind of payment is very new to us, but we like the system and we didn’t face any problems,” explains Kahanbu. As most other newly displaced families in DR Congo, the family is struggling to making ends meet in their new home in Kanyabayonga. They work in the fields for 1500 Congolese Francs (roughly $1.10) per day to pay for rent and food.
The First Time in DR Congo
Starting in December 2016, NRC was the first humanitarian agency in DR Congo to continuously implement the e-Voucher system with relative success. As NRC’s emergency coordinator in DR Congo, Ibrahim Abdullya Ly is responsible for the planning and implementation of e-Voucher markets.
“Vouchers have long been a useful method of allowing people to select the goods they need the most – and by using e-Vouchers, we are eliminating many of the risks of fraud and theft that exist with paper vouchers or cash distributions. And since the electronic system works much faster, we have been able to accommodate 200 more families per day compared to other systems,” he explains.
But all beginnings carry challenges. Many traders and customers in this region lack reading skills so NRC had to train beneficiaries on the usage of the cards and the special smartphones used to scan the cards. NRC also has staff available throughout the market to assist and handle issues and complaints.
A total of 6180 displaced families – more than 37 400 people – stocked up on food and household items at the Kanyabayonga e-Voucher market during the 11 days it was open.
The distribution of food and household items is one of several activities that form an integrated approach to support displaced populations in DR Congo. With funding from the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department, NRC aims to provide education, legal assistance, and emergency distributions under a rapid response mechanism to more than 147 000 displaced people and members of host communities in 2016 and 2017 in North and South Kivu provinces of DR Congo.
Last updated 26/01/2018