The cheering of thousands of people gathered
at the Ankoro docks on Tuesday sounded like a roar. People had waited for
hours, crammed together on the banks of the Congo River. As the first ship
of the convoy came into view, people waved and clapped their hands ecstatically.
The rest of the 12-ship convoy followed shortly, marking the end of a miraculous
journey - the first of its kind in the DR Congo. Ankoro seemed to have
come to a standstill as the ships sailed into view.
The air was charged with excitement. "It is a happy day for Ankoro," remarked one observer. Children were overjoyed to witness the spectacle. "We saw big boats," said young Palila Fatuma. "I saw corn flour and oil on the boats."
A sign draped across the World Vision warehouse entrance read, "Thank God. You have made it at last." People in Ankoro have been waiting since December for food aid.
Present at the docks was also a local committee made up of internally displaced people (IDPs). "There are many displaced people here today," said Sifa Ngaboyeka, a member of the committee.
The need for food is universal in the DR Congo, which is divided along ethnic and political lines. A week since the food left Lubumbashi, the situation in Ankoro remains bleak. By the time the food arrived on Tuesday, Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) - the only other external agency providing assistance - had left Ankoro. The hospital is not able to deal with the growing numbers of sick and malnourished patients. Apart from health, education is also a major problem in Ankoro. IDP children are particularly hard-hit by the constant displacement.
Despite major risks involved with the journey, the convoy had faced only minor problems. Now begins the massive task of distributing the food to the 67,000 people identified as vulnerable (a total of 8,000 families.)
The food programme will continue up to the end of June at which point a reassessment will be done for a continuation programme. Each person in each family will receive 9.3kg flour, 0.60 liters oil, 0.10kg salt and 2.75kg beans when available. A therapeutic feeding programme for malnourished children is also being considered.