Democratic Republic of COngo
BY: Caitlyn Browning
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the second largest country in Africa, with a population of 89,561,403. The country has one of the lowest gross national incomes per capita in the world, ranking 168th out of 174 countries. It is also facing one of the longest standing and most complex humanitarian crises in history, affecting mainly the Eastern part of the country. The Democratic Republic of Congo is plagued by extreme poverty as a result of long-standing ongoing conflict between militias, lack of a strong government, gross exploitation of natural resources, violations of human rights, and various disease related crises. The start of the conflict can be directly traced back to the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, when groups involved in the conflict pushed into Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 2004, war broke out in Kivu, a region in Eastern Congo divided into a north and south province, between the Congolese military, local militias, and foreign groups, specifically The Allied Defence Force of Uganda and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Randa over control of the natural resources in the country. The Democratic Republic of Congo has an extreme abundance of natural resources, among which are gold, silver, tin, and numerous other valuable and/or useful metals. Gold is the main conflict mineral in the Kivus, and every year around 500 million dollars worth are illegally smuggled out of the country. The warring groups spent nearly a decade attacking each other over control of the precious mineral, but they weren't the only ones suffering from the conflict's consequences.
The Congolese citizens have fallen victim to the violent conflict in their regions. Children were being kidnapped and recruited as active combatants by many of the militant groups in the eastern part of the country. The young girls who are recruited are often treated as sex slaves. Women caught up in the areas of conflict are also subjected to horrific sexual violence by the militia groups. Resources and sanctuaries for the victims of sexual assault have been diminishing in number due to the lack of available funding.
In recent years, as a direct result of extreme exploitation and violent conflict leading to the displacement of millions of citizens in previous decades, the Democratic Republic of Congo has faced what the United Nations says is the second largest food-related crisis in the world right after Yemen, with 21.8 million people suffering from shortages of food. Most of those going hungry are internally displaced citizens who were forced out of their homes by conflict among warring militias, 90% of whom are women and children. Conflicting military groups have pushed many citizens out of their homes, and have ruined much of the farmland through exploitation of the country's natural resources. Only 10% of the country’s farmland is usable for crop cultivation, which produces 42% of the DRC’s food supply. Unsurprisingly, the key regions affected by extreme poverty and malnutrition in the country are located in the east, most notably North and
South Kivu. Children in the country are the most susceptible to poverty, with 3.4 million suffering from acute malnutrition, many of whom are under the age of five.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the countries hit the hardest by the Ebola Virus Disease, experiencing 10 separate outbreaks of the disease. The tenth outbreak began in August of 2018, was the third outbreak in 2 years, and the second in 2018 alone. The latest outbreak was especially difficult to control and aid as it affected a region that was at the time, an active conflict zone. It was the second deadliest and largest outbreak of Ebola in the history of the disease, finally lessening just recently, in March of 2020.
However around the same time the latest Ebola outbreak had somewhat calmed down, a new disease had begun to spread across the country- COVID-19. Since about February 15th of this year, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen over 11,000 cases of COVID-19, and over 300 deaths. Their recovery rate was high, but the virus was able to spread rapidly especially in communities of internally displaced citizens in the country. The over 5.5 million internally displaced Congolese are often forced to take residence in overcrowded urban communities with inadequate sanitation and space for social distancing from families and other individuals. Several humanitarian agencies and organizations operate healthcare centers out of Congo, but are being overloaded by the coronavirus outbreaks, and are experiencing an extreme strain on the resources that they can contribute. In addition to COVID-19 and the Ebola virus, the DRC also suffers from cholera and measles, which kills thousands of citizens there every year.
Though the country’s future seems especially bleak at the moment, many organizations are fighting for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo by providing food, disease/pandemic aid, and other resources essential to the survival of the Congolese people. Many of these programs that rely on donations are struggling to provide adequate resources due to the amplitude of the crisis. Despite this, the organizations are continuing to fight hard for the lives of the Congolese, such as the International Red Cross, who is working to provide supplies to combat COVID-19 as well as educational programs in order to educate the Congolese citizens on ways they can stop the spread of and prevent the coronavirus in their households and communities. Other organizations such as the World Food Program USA collect donations that go directly to obtaining and distributing food resources to the people. A solution to the unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo is nowhere in the near future, but through years of continued humanitarian efforts by hundreds of agencies and the donations of concerned citizens all over the globe, there is hope of improving, and eventually mending the crisis.