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When Disaster Aid Never Finds Its Victims

In Congo, too often aid gets diverted from those most needy to those best connected. The devastating rains this spring were a tragic case in point.

True helping hands are needed in Congo (Julien Harneis)
True helping hands are needed in Congo (Julien Harneis)
Trésor Makunya Muhindo

SANGE - Those most in need of disaster aid are not necessarily the ones who are receiving it in South Kivu, Congo, where some local authorities are distributing aid to their friends and family. Meanwhile, NGOs too often turn a blind eye.

Back in May, the playground of Rutanga primary school, in the middle of Sange in South Kivu was crowded one morning with men and women, all clutching bags and baskets. Forming long queues, they waited for kitchen utensils, tarpaulin and cloths from the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an international NGO working to help victims of the torrential rains that had devastated the town. More than 1,900 houses had their roofs collapse or swept away by the rains that struck the Democratic Republic of Congo last March and April.

"What shocks me is that people, my neighbors in fact, have been given aid even though they weren't affected by the disaster," said Adolphe Kizungu, a resident of the Rutunga area whose roof was swept away in March. This time, the actual victim went home empty-handed.

Twenty kilometers to the south, in Kiliba, a similar situation arose at the end of April when the river broke its banks and swept away nearby houses. "Sheet metal should be given to us, but the leader of the village gave half of the materials to non-victims and the other half just disappeared," says Nizi Ngoma, a Berute resident who has been homeless since the floods.

Kizungu notes that in the Ruzizi plain, in the territory of Uvira, disaster aid is being stolen more and more often since the explosion of an oil-tanker in Sange in 2010, which caused more than 300 deaths and saw thousands of donations flood in.

Good will, wasted

Aid is coming from international organizations or people of good will who think that it will reach the victims through the authorities. But these very authorities are abusing their power by providing for those that have not been affected or by sharing the donations with members of their family.

"Our detractors are trying to cause trouble." According to Bimka Kambiningi, the benefactors must share some of the responsibility, by directly identifying the victims. Instead, "they're demanding the leaders to draft up lists of disaster victims. Then the leaders of the town are telling the authorities to put down some of their friends' names."

For Moïse Masaro, a resident of Sange, the leaders, who are mostly farmers, are not being paid by the Congolese state. "So they can't miss an opportunity to take some of the goods to sell them on and get some money!" This, he says, helps explain the lack of both a sense of solidarity and patriotism.

Members of the administration, like Masasika Aramba, says that these dealings usually happen behind their backs. "Only organizations identify their beneficiaries," he says. "Those who are trying to cause trouble are spreading false information."

The leader of the Kibogoye area in Sange says it is certain aid workers go home with supplies rather than giving them to those that need them. A security officer working for the IRC in South Kivu confirms this, adding that the aid workers are working with the local leaders to squander supplies. He deplores the fact that the victims will not denounce him out of fear that they will be punished because, as he says, "these are only rumors, we don't have the proof to back it up. Discreet investigation will take place with the next delivery of aid," he assures.

"In Sange like in Kiliba, some residents are staying clear of community work as of December 2011," notes the leader of the Rutanga area. Some don't hesitate to call on the leaders who are benefiting from the NGO donations. "Sometimes, households band together to give servicemen flour, but some of them protest. They don't have any trust or respect for the leaders any more," notes B. Kambiningi.

Guy Murhula, supervisor for another NGO explains: "We have created committees to identify the residents in Sange and to gather information on the flood victims," he says. "Some 1,400 have already received goats and seeds."

Read the original article from Syfia in French.

Photo - Julien Harneis

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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