Last week, our team went to the Republic of Congo for the first time. What? How is this our first time in Congo? You’re probably thinking: “I have read loads of blog posts about mVAM in Congo”. True, but they were referring to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the country where mVAM first started 4 years ago. This time we went to its neighbour, the ‘Other Congo’. The Republic of Congo (RoC) is rarely in the headlines but WFP is actually very active in this country of only 4.2 million inhabitants. We have our head office in the capital, Brazzaville, and five offices in the field.
In July, the UN declared a humanitarian emergency in the Pool region of RoC. This region, south of Brazzaville, is the scene of violent confrontations between rebel forces and the army. WFP is assisting thousands of families who have escaped the fighting and are seeking refuge with host families in neighbouring regions. Due to security constraints, it is difficult for WFP to conduct traditional food security assessments in Pool and get information about the situation on the ground. How many families have remained in the region? Are there still supplies in the local markets? Are prices too high? This is where mVAM comes in. RoC has one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in Africa – 113 cellular subscriptions per 100 people (source: World Bank) – but the WFP Country Office wanted to know if they could find reliable key informants in Pool whom they could call regularly to get fresh updates on the situation.
The answer is yes, thanks to our partners. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action (MASAHS) has a dense network of local civil servants that follow the humanitarian situation on the ground very closely. MASAHS is a key partner in the crisis response and the Minister herself offered her help to leverage this network! Unfortunately, even tapping into this network did not provide us with enough respondents, as in some of the most affected districts, MASAHS workers have also had to flee to safe cities. We therefore reached out to the international NGO CARITAS who were able to fill the gaps and provide contacts in almost all the affected localities.
To ensure that the questionnaire we are going use to call our key informants provides a full picture of what is going on, we travelled to Bouenza, a region bordering Pool, to meet with displaced families. Talking to them, we learnt that food is often available in Pool at reasonable prices. However, because farmers had to flee their lands and settle in urban areas they lost their source of income and are struggling to buy the basic commodities they need to feed their families. To get a clearer picture of the situation, we decided to add questions about earning sources in addition to food availability and prices in our mVAM questionnaire.
The Country Office is now piloting voice calls to adjust the questions and evaluate the reliability of the information gathered. Data will come in the next weeks and OCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) – a data sharing platform with an office in Dakar – offered their help to visualize and disseminate the findings. Understanding more specifically what people’s needs are will help us to improve our response to the crisis.