Situated about 800 km by plane from Lubumbashi, the DR Congo's second major centre, Ankoro is not easily accessible. The main road leading to the town was washed away during the rainy season. Shipping the food aid to Ankoro has been the only option but by far the most difficult. The unprecedented river voyage faces huge logistical problems due to the scale of the delivery and the territory to be navigated. Several delays have already occurred. Fuel has also been very difficult to access. The convoy will also have to pass through rebel-controlled territory to reach Ankoro.
The voyage via the Congo River will span approximately 900 km in 7 days. The food will be transported by rail from Lubumbashi to Bukama where it will then be shipped for three days via the Congo River to Ankoro. A total tonnage of 626.4 metric tonnes will be distributed. The ration will consist of maize, oil and salt.
Thousands of people's hopes rest upon this delivery of food. Food distribution intended for October was delayed by conflict, which broke out in Ankoro town last year. The November conflict caused people to flee into the surrounding bush, where they were forced to scavenge on anything they could find. Over 3,000 homes were burned down and an estimated 100 people were killed during the conflict.
The conflict has compounded the IDP crisis in Ankoro, since many people lost their homes. More people are vulnerable to hunger in Ankoro now as food that was stored after the harvest was looted by raiding soldiers. Fields were totally destroyed, leaving people with no seeds to plant just as the rainy season began.
Health conditions in Ankoro are also very poor. Approximately 40% of the population are malnourished. Most people only eat one meal a day - if they can find food.
World Vision was initially targeting 44,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and 8,000 malnourished children in the area. Since the fighting broke out, a war-affected programme has been put into place to target the whole population, which amounts to 67,000 people. The majority of the population has been displaced by fighting in other parts of the country.
Should logistical problems or another outbreak of fighting delay the distribution, it is expected that people will only receive food aid in May. The Relief Manager for World Vision DRC, Phil Attwell, expects to see "wide-scale suffering" in the area if people do not get food soon. Ankoro is also very vulnerable to political instability. The Congo River divides part of the town from rebel-controlled territory. Internal conflict is also rife.
The inaccessibility of Ankoro and the tense political situation have kept aid agencies from intervening. Before World Vision conducted a distribution in December, there has been no food aid entering the country for the past three years.
If this convoy works, the next shipment will have other non-food items including clothing, construction materials and medical supplies.
More people are flocking into Ankoro town as news of the distribution spreads. Thousands of people are expected to gather at the docks to greet the 13-ship convoy.