A collaboration between the Salvation Army and the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has spawned a new means of delivering aid to the displaced. CHF, managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, are country-based funds around the world that collect money from donors to create a pool of funds from which aid agencies can then withdraw to meet urgent needs quickly and effectively. The CHF’s most recent role was to provide the financial backing for a trade fair in the village of Kambilo, home to about 127,000 people who fled the fighting in nearby Manono this year.
The scene would be a familiar sight to many around the world, with vendors setting up their goods on one side of a field and prospective shoppers lined up by the hundreds on the other side. What differentiates this fair from a common farmer’s market, however, is that shoppers are displaced persons looking to replace the basic supplies that they had to leave behind.
Trade fairs offer an alternative approach to providing aid that aims to preserve the dignity of those who have already suffered so much. Traditionally, NGOs and UN agencies have provided standard kits containing predefined basic necessities in mass quantities to Internally Displaced People (IDPs, or those who have been displaced within the borders of their own country).
According to Alain Decoux, the head of the CHF in DRC, “trade fairs” provide a more dignified means of ensuring that needs are met without removing a sense of autonomy from the process. “While they wait to return home,” he says “we want to rebuild the sense of empowerment and responsibility over their lives.”
At the fair, each family is given coupons worth a total of US$90. These coupons take the place of cash and can be traded for goods at the various stalls. The local merchants can then exchange these coupons for cash from the NGOs that are involved with the fair. This system mitigates the economic risk faced by small businesses when an area receives a large influx of free aid, thus providing a boost to the local economy. The trade fair also enables the displaced to purchase the goods that they need the most rather than those deemed necessary by outside agencies. For Nadège Zawadi, the mother of four with a fifth child on the way, this meant buying a bit of canvas to stop her straw roof from leaking. The fair also allowed her to purchase kitchen utensils to prepare food and clothing for herself and her children.
Though this fair is the first of its kind in Kambilo, it is not unique in DCR. Specifically, the CHF funded 23 such fairs across the country in 2012, injecting a total $16.3 million into local economies and providing aid to more than 26,000 families.
Though the trade fair is still a relatively new approach to aid provisioning, it has thus far met with resounding success. IDPs can purchase the goods that they need to survive while maintaining both their freedom and dignity.
– Rebecca Beyer