The following was published on The Borgen Project’s Magazine. Read it here.
SEATTLE — The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is characterized by internal conflict, chronic poverty, human rights violations and underdevelopment. Though there is no simple explanation for the DRC’s high rate of poverty or instability, there are five main factors that affect poverty in the DRC.
Inadequate Use of Abundant Resources
The DRC has enormous reserves of natural resources and the potential to become one of the richest African countries. Eighty million hectares of arable land and more than 1,100 minerals and precious metals constitute its potential for economic growth.
However, only 10 million hectares of the DRC’s arable land are under cultivation. Illegal mining by armed groups and war contribute to the DRC’s inability to utilize its vast resources. By increasing the amount of land under cultivation, food security and economic development would increase significantly, reducing poverty in the DRC.
The DRC was once renowned in Africa for its network of clinics and its healthcare system. However, over the last three decades, there has been a dramatic decline in the DRC’s healthcare, education and transportation infrastructures. Conflict, vast geography, dense forests and low population density continue to complicate the development of new infrastructure.
Poor transportation infrastructure provides huge logistical obstacles to reaching children needing vaccinesthroughout the DRC. Seventy percent of the Congolese people have no access to healthcare. Hospitals and clinics throughout the DRC lack equipment, staff, medicine and supplies. The DRC’s education system is of poor quality and inaccessible to children in rural areas.
In general, the management of basic public services, such as education, health, water and sanitation, is extraordinarily limited in the DRC, with substantial regional variation. The lack of infrastructure and the economic inability to build new infrastructure severely limits the Congolese peoples’ quality of life, proliferating poverty in the DRC.
Food Insecurity, Malnourishment and Disease
Access to nutritious food is a daily struggle for the Congolese people. According to the World Food Programme, 7.7 million Congolese people are severely food insecure, a 30 percent increase from 2017.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) classifies the DRC’s food insecurity at a crisis level three, on a scale of one (minimal) to five (famine). There are 4.6 million Congolese children acutely malnourished, with 2.2 million children suffering from severe malnutrition. At most, 9.3 percent of the Congolese population consumes an acceptable minimum diet.
The DRC is second highest in malaria cases worldwide. Malaria accounts for the deaths of one out of five Congolese children under age 5 and 7 percent of the entire population. Diarrheal diseases are the number one cause of death for the Congolese people, killing 12 percent annually. Currently, the continuous outbreak of the Ebola virus disease poses a serious concern to the Congolese population.
FEWS NET has identified the DRC as a region demanding significant concern due to the ongoing conflicts throughout the DRC, causing increasing internal displacement and external refugees. Violent conflict has erupted in the Kasaï, North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika provinces, though fighting has consistently plagued the Kivu and Ituri provinces for more than two decades.
In 2016, approximately 1.7 million people fled their homes due to the crisis in eastern DRC spilling over into the Kasaï region. This has contributed to 4.5 million internally displaced people in the DRC. The increase in conflict between 2017 and 2018 has caused more than 600,000 Congolese to seek refuge in neighboring countries and a doubling of humanitarian needs in the DRC.
Though the war in the DRC officially ended in July 2003, the eastern region of the DRC remains plagued with violence among armed groups, land disputes, sexual violence and intercommunity conflicts, contributing to humanitarian crises and poverty in the DRC.
The DRC has witnessed decades of corrupt dictators who helped cripple the DRC’s economy and contribute to poverty in the DRC. Neopatrimonialism has characterized the DRC’s political system long before the current president, Joseph Kabila, took office.
Presidents Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent Desire-Kabila and Joseph Kabila have all profited from the presidential position, allocating wealth and resources for themselves. The use of public offices for personal profit is deeply ingrained in the political culture of the DRC, contributing to economic mismanagement, ethnic cleavages, the erosion of infrastructure and increased poverty in the DRC.
Joseph Kabila’s unwillingness to loosen his grip on power has only contributed to what Human Rights Watch has described as a “web of security, humanitarian, political, and economic crises” that continues to damage the Congolese people.
Working to Alleviate Poverty in the DRC
Though the situation regarding poverty in the DRC is dire, efforts to improve conditions continue.
The DRC has made significant strides in its education sector since 2002. The completion rate for primary age children has increased from 20 percent in 2002 to 70 percent in 2014. The DRC developed an Educational Sector Plan for 2016-2025, which will focus on improving learning quality, expanding access throughout rural and urban areas and improving governance.
The government of the DRC and its international partners have also prioritized health issues. Forty-five percent of children between the ages of 1 and 2 received all vaccinations, an increase of 31 percent from 2007. For the first time, funds were set aside for contraceptives and essential medicines in 2015.
If efforts to improve utilization of the DRC’s natural resources, rebuild infrastructure, increase food security, diminish ethnopolitical conflict and restructure the political climate of the DRC continue, there is hope for a secure state and a significant reduction of poverty in the DRC.
– Kara Roberts