10 December 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: Howard G. Buffett Foundation Funds Hope in Eastern DRC

After tens of thousands of people fled a new flareup of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, US philanthropist Howard G. Buffett visited the region in early December to view their plight first-hand. As the unrest abates, his foundation has donated $1 million to WFP to help returnees restart their lives.

MUGUNGA I CAMP, Democratic Republic of Congo - Ifrazi Hakizimana carefully scoops the last grains of WFP maize scattered on a tarp into her wicker basket. In this camp for displaced people, with clouds brooding overhead and armed groups just a few kilometres away, every kernel is precious.

"There is security here," said Hakizimana, 70, clad in a striped T-shirt and headscarf, lines etched deeply into her face. "There's food."

In November, Hakizimana and her grandchildren joined tens of thousands of people fleeing the latest bout of unrest in eastern DRC's North Kivu province, a mineral-rich region that has lurched from conflict to conflict.

Today, more than 61,000 people pack Mugunga I camp for internally displaced people, located a few kilometers from the provincial capital of Goma. Many like Hakizimana came here from yet another IDP camp, uprooted by earlier clashes.

But with battle lines between Congolese rebels and government forces shifting, other displaced people are going home. At Don Bosco, a Goma-based Catholic institution, the last of roughly 10,000 people who sought refuge from the fighting lined up for transportation one recent morning - either to nearby camps for the displaced, or back home.

"I need to get back and start farming again," said Venasia Niramariro, a 55-year-old mother of two, who was heading to her home village of Rugari, some 35 kilometres north of Goma.

There is little to greet her. Armed men burned down her house and stole her crops.

But the resettlement of Niramariro and others is being eased by a $1 million contribution to WFP from the US-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

"It's incredibly important to get people home," foundation head Howard G. Buffett said during a recent tour of Mugunga I, where he spoke to war-weary Congolese. "And the only way you're going to get them home is with some support of food. That's why we really believe in what WFP is doing here."

Days after rebels briefly took over Goma and then marched south in late November, WFP launched two waves of food distributions targeting some 160,000 displaced people.

"Food is their main need. With this conflict, they have lost everything, even their harvests," said Wolfram Herfurth, head of WFP's area office in Goma. The Buffett foundation's contribution, he said, "will help people rebuild their livelihoods."

While worry is carved into many faces, laughter still rings out in the camps. Children swarm around visitors, begging for a photo. Young mothers sit in groups chatting.

"I think there's a future in this area is because it has incredible natural resources and incredible people," said Buffett, a long-time visitor to the region who has invested in a raft of environment and development projects. "I think it would be a huge mistake to walk away from these people who are so dedicated and committed and have endured so much."

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