Under a drizzle, Barimeya Ernest, 50, rolled up his pants and trekked up a hill overhanging his village, Rugari.
“This light rain in the morning means the planting season of the year has started,” he said to a villager walking past. “We should be planting new crops by now.”
But the road Barimeya chose that morning did not lead to his fields. It went rather to a distribution site where mattresses and corrugated iron were being distributed by a humanitarian organization to displaced people who have returned home. Barimeya is among tens of thousands of people who have recently returned to Rugari to find their farms and personal belongings looted.
“They stole everything”, he said. “I have no hoes, no seeds to plant and no roof to shelter my family.”
Last July, Barimeya, a father of 11, was forced to leave Rugari located 25 kms north of Goma, when M23 rebels took control of Rutshuru territory following clashes with the army. Barimeya and his family sought refuge in Kanyaruchinya camp just 10 km north of Goma, North Kivu’s provincial capital.
Schools and churches
In mid-November, the camp, which hosted more than 35,000 displaced people, emptied as M23 advanced towards Goma. Many camp dwellers sought refuge in schools and churches. But some made their way to camps around Goma.
In early December, following an M23 withdrawal, many people who had been displaced from Rutshuru territory decided to return home. In Rugari and Kibumba, more than 2,700 households out of some 4,500 displaced returned home. Many more are still in camps around Goma as they fear for their security. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported at the end of January nearly 800,000 people internally displaced in North Kivu since January 2009. This includes more than 500,000 newly displaced since April 2012.
Daily hot meals
To help the returnees restart their lives, WFP distributed food rations to 80,000 people including Barimeya and his family in January. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization and partners started distributions of seeds and agricultural tools to farmers in February. For the most vulnerable groups such as malnourished children, pregnant and nursing women, WFP runs a supplementary feeding programme in 35 nutritional centres. Daily hot meals are also provided to more than 50,800 school children in 95 primary schools throughout Rutshuru territory.
WFP’s assistance to the returnees has been possible thanks to a grant of US$ 1 million received from Howard Buffett, President of the Howard Foundation and a WFP Ambassador against Hunger. This latest grant of US$ 1 million brings the Foundation’s donations to WFP since 2006 to $50 million.
Now, with the signing of a peace deal for the DRC by 11 African countries in late February, Barimeya is hoping for the security that will allow him to plant his crops and feed his family.