Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

Poverty Rate Reduction
The World Bank published an analysis in 2019 of the 15 countries with the greatest poverty rate reduction from 1999-2015. Of those 15 countries, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and The Kyrgyz Republic were the most successful in reducing poverty. While some of these five countries are continuing to reduce their poverty levels, others have recently faced hardships, stagnating their ability to eradicate poverty.

5 Leaders in Poverty Reduction

  1. Tanzania: Tanzania saw a poverty rate reduction of 3.2% from 2000-2011. Moreover, its poverty rate is continuing to reduce as from 2007-2018, the poverty rate fell from 34.4% to 26.4%, and the extreme poverty rate fell from 11.7% to 8%. However, the wealth gap increased during that same time period, with the Gini coefficient rising from 38.5 to 39.5. This uptick in the wealth gap may be due to the fact that education and sanitation have become more accessible in cities but not rural areas. However, despite this increase, Tanzania is persisting in reducing its levels of poverty.
  2. Tajikistan: Tajikistan reduced its poverty levels by 3.1% from 1999-2015. Poverty rates fluctuate in Tajikistan depending on job availability and remittance. However, the poverty rate mostly remains on the decline in Tajikistan, albeit it is slower than in the past. From 2012-2017, the poverty rate fell by 7.5%, but now it is decreasing about 1% per year on average. The poverty rate has been decreasing slower because the remittances that Tajikistan has received have lessened over the past few years. Additionally, COVID-19 has negatively affected the economy, causing more food insecurity. Fortunately, expectations have determined that the country will recover quickly from this downfall.
  3. Chad: Chad experienced a reduced poverty rate of 3.1% from 2003-2011. The projected number of impoverished people in Chad increased from 4.7 million to 6.3 million from 2011-2019. Additionally, Chad ranks last on the World Bank’s Human Capital Index. The good news is that many nonprofit organizations are working to help decrease the poverty rate in Chad. The World Food Bank has established many support systems and has helped 1.4 million people so far. The International Development Association (IDA) improved learning conditions for over 300,000 elementary school children from 2013-2018. The IDA also provided health support for over 50,000 people from 2014-2018. These are only two examples of organizations that work to improve the quality of life of the people and reduce the poverty rate in Chad.
  4. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The DRC reduced its poverty rate by 2.7% from 2005-2011. It remains low on the Human Captial Index with 72% of people living in extreme poverty. Yet, like in Chad, there are many nonprofits working to help reduce the poverty rate in the DRC. For example, the IDA helped 1.8 million people receive health services and provided work support programs for 1 million displaced people through 2018. The United Nations Capital Development Fund has been working in the DRC since 2004 and helps create a more financially inclusive environment. Even though the country has a long way to go, the hard work of these organizations shows a promising future for the DRC.
  5. The Kyrgyz Republic: The Kyrgyz Republic reduced its poverty levels by 2.6% from 2000-2015. The Kyrgyz Republic’s economy has experienced fluctuations since 2010 and remains vulnerable. Many citizens live close to the poverty line. However, the poverty rate in rural areas continues to steadily decline. Like Tajikistan, COVID-19 negatively impacted The Kyrgyz Republic’s economy. On July 30, 2020, the World Bank decided to finance three projects that will help “mitigate the unprecedented health, economic and social challenges caused by the…pandemic.” One of these initiatives includes direct financial help for up to 200,000 poor families. Overall, the Kyrgyz Republic has prevailed in reducing the poverty rate and increasing access to healthcare and education in the past 20 years.

Looking Forward

While some countries have regressed in poverty rate reduction, others continue to decrease poverty rates. However, good news exists even for countries with increased poverty rates. Nonprofits work to provide relief, aid and policy changes that help those in poverty.

Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of CongoCOVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has devastating effects, infecting over 27,000 individuals by March 2021 and putting intense pressure on the healthcare system. The DRC has already been dealing with cholera, ebola and a measles epidemic in 2019, leaving the healthcare system particularly vulnerable.

The COVID-19 Situation in the DRC

While this nation has faced many struggles since the rapid spread of the virus in the summer of 2020, big data provides hope for a more organized and effective response to COVID-19 in the DRC. The DRC has not had a census since 1984 and since then, the nation has split its 11 provinces into 26, leading to an even more disjointed understanding of the DRC’s population. Big data via mobile companies could allow for updated population estimates and health infrastructure data leading to a better COVID-19 response.
UNICEF has improved mass media communication in the DRC and trained nearly 100 media professionals on warning signs of COVID-19 to allow professionals to inform the public on COVID-19 better. Since these efforts, 25 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo were reached by mass media to prevent the spread of the disease.

How Technology Can Help Slow the Spread

Ongoing advancements in big data and the availability of technology worldwide have allowed many countries to make better forecasts for the spread of COVID-19. These advancements allowed the DRC’s government to make more information-based policy decisions.
Oxford University’s Big Data Institute has studied the benefits of using mobile apps to provide data on a nation’s citizens that would allow for a more efficient and succinct response to COVID-19. Nearly half of COVID-19 transmissions happen before symptoms arise, which means mobile apps that notify individuals who may have been exposed provide a quick and widespread response to stopping the spread.

Mobile Big Data and the DRC’s Fight Against COVID-19

In May 2020, mobile operators in the Democratic Republic of Congo, namely Africell, Organe and Vodacom, agreed to collaborate to use their big data analytics to provide information for the government’s response to COVID-19. This agreement led to a nationwide dashboard that allows health authorities to track mobility among the population and across different health districts to trace the spread of the virus.

Since the introduction of COVID-19 in the DRC, the virus has spread quickly from the central, populated districts to other provinces. Utilizing big mobile data to track this spread will allow better informed policy choices from the government. Analysis of this data has also led to updated information on the stock levels and needs of health care facilities in the DRC.
An example of the utilization of this big data is when the DRC’s government took confinement measures and prevented travel to the province of Gombe. Big mobile data companies in the DRC have provided the government with call detail records (CDRs) that have shown a 70% drop in travelers to Gombe after implementing the rules, showing high adherence to government recommendations.

Future Measures to Use Technology to Stop the Spread

Big mobile providers are working with the Ministry of Health to predict hotspots for COVID-19 in the DRC in the future using data that tracks population mobility. Looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, big data analytics provide hope for more efficient government policies and a strengthened relationship between healthcare facilities and the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

– Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Flickr

5 Ways the DRC Can Slow the Spread of COVID-19
On November 18, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) and government officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced the end of the latest Ebola outbreak. This outbreak started in June 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and was the 11th Ebola outbreak in the DRC since the first recognition of the disease in 1976. “It wasn’t easy, but we’ve done it!” tweeted the Regional Director of WHO, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. The DRC, one of the most impoverished countries on earth, emerged from the wake of the most recent Ebola outbreak after learning some important lessons. The information gained from this occurrence has offered insight that can help slow the spread of COVID-19 on a global scale.

At the start of the pandemic, the country’s COVID-19 mortality rate was 10%. In just six months, that rate decreased to 2.5%. Here are the five key components the DRC discovered are vital in its attempt to slow the spread of a viral outbreak.

5 Ways the DRC Can Slow the Spread of COVID-19

  1. Community engagement is of extreme importance in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The Ebola aid response initially failed due to significant mistrust from people in the communities that needed help. The continuous conflict between the militant groups and the government made it difficult to earn the trust of DRC citizens. As the outbreak grew, aid workers realized that spending more time directly engaging with individuals in affected communities made them more trusting. Workers built confidence by increasing the community’s knowledge of the virus. Engagement from spiritual advisors, educators and other community leaders in addition to politicians and law enforcement is essential. These varying perspectives are useful in soothing fears, offering guidance and rooting out rumors and misinformation.
  2. Involving social scientists as soon as possible is paramount. Epidemics often sow seeds of resentment and suspicion within communities. As a result, these “seeds” often impede recovery and prevention efforts if allowed to grow. When scientists use their experience to analyze community structures, they can quickly identify areas of distrust. Their unique perspective on human behavior and cultural practices can then assist in developing solutions that are acceptable to all. Communities are then more likely to take ownership and come together to work towards strategies to slow the spread of the disease.
  3. Prioritizing the patient experience is mutually beneficial to the infected person as well as those providing the treatment. Stigma often follows survivors of Ebola with families and communities, with others expressing fear toward individuals even after they have recovered. Those recovering from COVID-19 often experience similar shaming. Conditions that result in trauma or embarrassment for the patient provide those who the virus may infect with a reason to ignore their treatment options. Performing care with respect, empathy and dignity offers a positive experience. This increases the chance that newly infected patients will seek help. Outreach in the form of education can reduce a community’s discontent. A better grasp of how the virus works and the recovery process provides understanding and relief.
  4. Deploying familial leaders for monitoring, early case detection, contact tracing, quarantine and follow-up is beneficial. As many see the leader in their family as a protector, this role is uniquely advantageous in increasing understanding of the disease itself. Family leaders are also in good positions to be the ones who take on the role of bolstering understanding of personal and family precautionary measures. An entire household working to slow the spread of COVID-19 can have a greater impact than individual effort.
  5. Taking action to ensure swift turnaround times for labs is important. One priority during the Ebola outbreak was getting lab results back to patients as quickly as possible. Primarily, this is to relieve any existing anxieties for the patient and the patient’s family. Additionally, quick turnaround allows for quick, public safety protocol execution to prevent the further spread of disease. This strategy is equally effective in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Even with one lethal and viral outbreak in the DRC finished, COVID-19 remains a very real and deadly threat. Through surviving Ebola, the DRC government grasped valuable, global lessons. The DRC government is using the tactics that proved successful in defeating the Ebola virus outbreak to slow the spread of COVID-19. As world leaders plan and devise strategies, the DRC’s successes serve as experienced examples in this globally critical situation with little precedent.

– Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Agricultural Sustainability in the DRCDespite the Democratic Republic of the Congo harboring the second-largest cultivable land in the world at 80 million hectares, food insecurity and malnutrition are pressing issues in a country that ranks among the poorest in the world. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) characterizes almost 22 million of the 89.5 million residents as severely food insecure, despite 70% of the employed population working in the agricultural industry. Lack of infrastructure combined with prolonged national armed conflict has led to only 10 million hectares currently under cultivation, leaving enormous potential for agricultural and economic growth. Agricultural sustainability in the DRC is crucial to address food insecurity and poverty.

The Joint WFP-FAO Resilience Program in DRC

A combined effort from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) focuses on the optimization of agriculture production as well as market revisions and improvements to reduce food insecurity and bolster a declining national economy. Improving agricultural sustainability in the DRC could prove effective in stabilizing a region with enormous agricultural potential.

The Need for Agricultural Sustainability

Providing direct financial relief to the DRC has proven both necessary and effective, especially in the wake of nationwide flooding in 2019 and 2020 on top of widespread armed conflict and displacement. Since 2018, USAID reports that the DRC has received roughly $570 million worth of direct food relief. However, direct relief does not equal sustainability and is a relatively short-term solution. The joint program from the WFP and FAO implements successful strategies to provide much-needed agricultural sustainability in the DRC and creates an important foundation for further improvements.

The Benefits of Cooperation

Promoting organizational cooperation and improving managerial structure has allowed for combined agricultural improvements nationwide. Since 2017, this project has reached 30,000 small farm households and stimulated cooperation that has improved organizational structure and operational capacities. This cooperation has allowed for the distribution of newer agricultural technologies and concepts such as improved seeds and more advanced tools to optimize production.

Increased cooperation has also helped eliminate local conflicts between farmers and has increased the total area of land being cultivated. The program has also provided 7,000 local women with functional literacy education, allowing for more female community engagement as well as involvement in managerial duties in farming communities.

Addressing Nutrition in the DRC

At a local level, the joint program has implemented enhanced nutritional programs to utilize the increasing resources. Increased cooperation and education have allowed for the growth of crops with enhanced nutritional value. To promote long-term sustainability, in 2020, the project utilized direct aid to establish 300 vegetable gardens, reaching 13,510 residents. The program also held 150 culinary demonstrations regarding optimal cooking techniques that are both affordable and nutritious.

Developing the DRC’s Infrastructure

Large agricultural areas such as the DRC rely heavily on infrastructure for transportation and storage of goods. The joint program has fixed 193 kilometers of agricultural roads since implementation in 2017, with 65% of the road rehabilitators being women.

Not only has the program enhanced transportation capabilities but it has also constructed 20 different storage buildings as well as 75 community granaries, allowing for the long-term storage of agricultural products. This enhanced storage capacity reduces waste from spoilage and allows product to be sold during favorable selling seasons, allowing for advanced agricultural sustainability in the DRC.

The Joint WFP-FAO resilience program in the DRC has made significant accomplishments in the country. With further efforts, agricultural sustainability in the DRC can be further developed to improve poverty in the region.

Jackson Thennis
Photo: Flickr

Dangers of non-vaccination
Polio survivor, Richard Elaka, 60, has made it his mission for the last 20 years to educate his community in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the benefits of vaccinating. At 7 years old, Mr. Elaka suddenly lost the use of his legs. His family initially believed this was the result of a curse that his uncle put on him. It was not until later that Richard understood that the poliomyelitis virus had infected him due to him not having received the polio vaccine. Unable to walk without the use of crutches from the age of 7, Mr. Elaka has not taken his survival for granted. He spends his free time doing community outreach. He roams the streets attempting to teach his neighbors about the dangers of non-vaccination.

The Under-Vaccination Problem in the DRC

Only 35% of children in the DRC, between the ages of 12-23 months, have complete vaccination records by the time they turn 1 year old. The COVID-19 pandemic has perpetuated this issue; the DRC has steadily watched vaccination numbers decline since the start of the pandemic. The primary reasons for the declining numbers are:

  1. Vaccinators lacking the personal protective equipment required for dispensing injections.
  2. Parental concerns of exposure to COVID-19 when traveling to vaccination facilities.
  3. Insufficient funds to buy the vaccines.
  4. Conflict and insecurity.

Number three on this list is one of the biggest barriers the DRC has faced.

The Plan

The DRC’s government is working to remedy the issue of under vaccination. The dangers of non-vaccination, particularly within the population of a developing country like the DRC, are a very real and present danger. In June 2020, the DRC  doubled the immunization funding budget it had in 2019. In fact, about $16.4 million went towards the purchase of vaccines.

Along with the financing that UNICEF contributed, the money that the DRC government provided has made it possible for the Emergency Plan for Revitalization of Routine Immunizations’ work in the DRC to continue. Some formally know the Emergency Plan for Revitalization of Routine Immunizations as The Mashako Plan, named for the late DRC Minister of Health Professor, Leonard Mashako Mamba. Its creation in 2018 was a direct response to the issue of incomplete immunizations. Initiated with the hope of targeting several under-vaccinated areas of the DRC, the Mashako plan implemented five key components in creating a sustainable immunization practice:

  1. Dispensing Immunizations – The 2018 goal was to increase the number of completed vaccination sessions by 20%.
  2. Stockout Reduction – Reduce incidents of local health care centers experiencing stockout by 80%.
  3. Observation and Assessment – Closely monitoring data results of vital factors.
  4. Supervision – Routine inspections of immunization storehouse and vaccine dispensing facilities.
  5. Funding and Strategy – Monthly meetings to discuss finance and implementation.

The Good News

From its inception to 2019, the Mashako Plan has contributed to a 50% increase in completed vaccination sessions. The impact COVID-19 is having on the DRC and its mission to vaccinate has been challenging. In 2020, the DRC contended not only with COVID but with Ebola and measles outbreaks as well. Despite these arduous circumstances, volunteer vaccinators, DRC public health officials and community members, like Richard Elaka, remain undeterred in the commitment to protecting the citizens of the DRC from the dangers of non-vaccination.

– Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

European Union in the DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the largest Sub-Saharan country and has the fourth largest population in Africa. Throughout the years, the DRC has been faced with a combination of local, national, and regional tensions. Those tensions were the result of violent conflicts to mass migrations, militias, and profound poverty. These issues have ultimately limited the opportunities for achieving peace and stability in the country. One of the most consistent efforts to improve the country’s conditions comes from the work of the European Union in the DRC.

History of Financial Aid

The history of the European Union in the DRC starts with the first European Development Fund (EDF) of 1958-59. After a ten-year suspension, the cooperation dynamics have been increasing exponentially. For instance, in January of 2002, the National Indicative Program (NIP) was signed under the 8th EDF with a value of 120 million Euros, while the number increased to 205 million Euros the following year.

Between 2001 and 2003, the DRC received a total of 1,868 million Euros from the EU, making the country one of the bloc’s main aid recipients. Most of the money was destined for development efforts (72%), followed by humanitarian aid and cooperation in the areas of politics and security (23.5% and 4.5% respectively).

The EU institutions persistently rank within the three top donors, together with the United States and the United Kingdom, in humanitarian aid for the DRC. Moreover, ECHO Flight is the European Union in the DRC provision for humanitarian air service, especially directed to remote areas lacking a proper road infrastructure.

Ongoing Work

Currently, under the 11th EDF National Initiative Program, the work of the European Union in the DRC designates 620 million Euros for the period of 2014 to 2020 to fund the following sectors:

  1. Health: assisting the Congolese government in the development of a health system that is accessible, efficient, and of good quality

  2. Environment and sustainable agriculture: financing conservation efforts and development through electric accessibility and sustainable agriculture

  3. Governance and rule of law: strengthening policy reforms in spheres such as defense, justice, and security

  4. Transport: contributing to the completion of the key transportation axis, which is a national road of a 150km

The EU has also undertaken three civilian missions and two military ones. This makes the DRC the country with the most Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions. The contributions of one of the military missions, EUFOR RD Congo (requested by the UN in 2006), were crucial for preventing the spread of violence on the eve of celebrating their first democratic elections in more than 40 years while ensuring a peaceful process. Civilian missions tend to focus on strengthening the DRC’s security forces and justice sector. These missions helped result in the creation of the Police Reform Monitoring Committee. They also assisted with the draft of the Congolese National Police’s framework of activities.

New Efforts

More recently, the EU agreed to contribute to policy reform initiatives with 60 million Euros. The aim of this funding is to increase civilians’ trust in the security forces and warranting the rule of law. Its four objectives are:

  • Enhancing the implementation of reforms and police accountability measures

  • Improving the professional level of the police and the criminal justice system

  • Improving human resource management

  • Activating and maintaining community security to restore public confidence

According to Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, “There can be no development and sustainable growth without a more peaceful environment. That is why the European Union is stepping up its support for security, peace, and stability in the DRC”.

Finally, the European Union is providing 19.5 million Euros of humanitarian aid to help the DRC in its fight against COVID-19. The DRC is the most impacted country in the region after Cameroon. The money will help improve access to healthcare and awareness-raising efforts. This will occur while the ECHO flights continue with their regular assistance, especially to those most vulnerable.

Helen Souki

Photo: Flickr

Health Crisis in the Congo
The spread of a deadly disease is threatening The Democratic Republic of the Congo. This disease has led to a rise in unemployment, an uptake in crime, a decrease in the economic growth rate, as well as the illness and death of many Congolese people. Presently, the Congo is dealing with the aftermath of one of the most deadly outbreaks of Ebola yet, creating a certified health crisis in the Congo. Within the previous two years, records have determined that there have been over 3,000 Ebola cases and 2,000 resulting deaths. Additionally, the country’s deficit rating has been on a decline of over 2% in that time period.

Financial Troubles in the DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo also suffers from serious financial hardships. Over the years, things have improved somewhat for the region. The poverty rate has decreased slightly within the previous two decades. In addition, the overall economic growth rate had risen to 5.8% as of 2018. Despite these incremental increases, the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks as one of the most impoverished countries, with its average citizens having to scrape by on as little as $1.90 per day.

Unfortunately, the positive economic factors occurred before the presence of this health crisis in the Congo. This caused the growth rate to drop back to 4.4% by 2019. The influx of disease within the region also stressed the economy, dropping it to the aforementioned deficit of 2%.

Violence in the DRC

Furthermore, the violence within the region has amplified the health crisis in the Congo. The Congo has a long history of violence with genocides occurring in both the 1800s and 1900s. Additionally, recent reports from the UN indicate that terrorist groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and an estimation of 100 other armed groups are in the region.

This not only makes it difficult for the delivery of medical supplies to combat this crisis, but it also dissuades the assistance of foreign aid, with many countries believing that their assistance will only entangle them in conflict. The presence of these groups has continued to expand in the area, and other terrorist affiliates, including ISIS, are taking notice. In 2019, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi speculated that ISIS may grab a significant foothold to invade the Nord Kivu within the Congo.

The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA)

The health crisis in the Congo forces responders to take action towards large-scale health care efforts. Not only has the Ministry of Health shown great awareness and urgency in addressing the needs of this crisis, but other non-governmental organizations have been making great strides to help as well.

The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA), in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, has created a treatment center in Beni to care for those speculated and confirmed to have Ebola. Preventative measures have received assistance through the provision of CUBE units and PPE by these organizations respectively. Additionally, WHO has provided over 1,600 individual responders to help combat the crisis.

Challenges

The battle against the health crisis in the Congo still holds many challenges. This is the latest outbreak of the disease in the Congo overall, with the first signs of it occurring as early as the 1970s. It was only during the last outbreak that the country utilized the Erevbo vaccine in the disease’s prevention. Over 300,000 people received the vaccine with a 100% efficacy rate, which represents a huge milestone along with other treatment and preventative measures.

Looking Forward

In November 2020, The Ministry of Health declared this crisis over. The DRC itself expects to increase its economic growth rate by 4.5%, thereby nullifying the 2.2% drop that it has seen. Yet, this supposed end is not as substantial as it may seem.

The disease still exists within animal DNA spread across the region, and infectious strains are able to remain in recovering victims for months following infection. The Ministry’s own announcement of the 10th outbreak’s end was quickly rescheduled in June 2020, due to the reemergence of this latest Ebola outbreak.

When asked about the possibility of a resurgence, WHO responded that “a robust and coordinated surveillance system must be maintained to rapidly, detect, isolate, test and provide care for suspected cases.” More alarmingly, the organization expressed that without this effort, the spread of Ebola could have easily eclipsed the borders of the DRC and become a global pandemic.

How quickly a resurgence could occur is unknown. However, it is clear that without a continued and international effort geared toward Ebola’s prevention that the possibility of a health crisis in the Congo could become an all too tragic and preventable reality.

– Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in the DRC
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has suffered from longstanding conflicts that have only exacerbated the country’s poverty crisis. About 70% of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. While these conditions have greatly affected the status of women’s rights in the DRC, much work is occurring to raise the standard of living for women.

Gender-Based Violence

The DRC documented more than 35,000 sexual violence cases in 2018, and U.N. Women reports that gender-based violence has risen by 99% with the onset of COVID-19. In war-torn states, conflict uniquely affects women and they are often subject to rape or sexual violence as a weapon of war. To combat these alarming statistics and improve women’s rights in the DRC, the country revised its strategy for combating gender-based violence in August 2020. The new national strategy includes a care framework for survivors, prevention methods for crimes and increased scope of the strategy throughout the entirety of the country, reaching over 51 million women in the DRC.

Women, Peace and Security

As of July 2019, a mere 16% of women constituted the DRC’s Senate, and none of the country’s Constitutional Court judges or provincial governors are women. The Women, Peace and Security agenda, as the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 adopted, aims to promote the inclusion of women in positions of power. The DRC’s National Action Plans (NAP) has incorporated it to better include women in decision-making. The DRC’s second NAP experienced enactment in 2019 and expectations have determined that it will be implemented until 2022, with the goal of increasing the inclusion of women and girls in economic and political decision-making to at least 20%.

Women’s Education

An estimated 52.7% of girls between the ages of 5 to 17 do not attend school in the DRC. Gaining an education directly links to an increase in women’s rights and independence, as staying in school commonly leads to lower rates of child marriage, increased financial literacy and expanded job and life opportunities. Although women’s participation in the workforce (70.7%) is roughly equivalent to that of men (73.2%), women’s participation comes primarily from agricultural work where lack of education and gender roles restrict women’s access to financial freedom and property ownership.

While poverty and lack of infrastructure have historically barred women’s and girls’ access to education, UNICEF has worked to improve educational opportunities and thus increase women’s rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UNICEF has partnered with the DRC’s Ministry of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education to facilitate distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has supported the education of close to 7 million students in the DRC.

Maternal Health

The DRC’s under-5 mortality rate is 84.8 per every 1,000 live births, and in 2011, the DRC accounted for half of all maternal deaths. Women are in particular need of proper healthcare facilities and ease of access to reliable medical centers, two factors that the DRC’s state of conflict and low status of women has greatly affected. To better aid pregnant women and uplift mothers post-birth, the DRC’s National Health Development Plan received €4.5 million ($5.3 million) in monetary aid in June 2020 from the European Union and UNICEF. The E.U. has sent additional doctors and provided blood bags, medicine, vaccines and food for newborns suffering from malnutrition, targeting six of the country’s provinces and 33 health zones.

Looking Forward

While the DRC continues to combat a myriad of issues in regards to women’s rights, it is clear that conditions are constantly improving and progress continues to occur in various sectors of society. As efforts make headway to improve women’s rights in the DRC, the country’s state of poverty and conflict should also experience reform.

– Caroline Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
With a population of over 98 million people, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the second-largest country in Africa. The country’s rich natural resources, such as copper, kept its economy afloat for several years and facilitated alliances with other nations. Unfortunately, corruption within the government and instability and violence from internal conflicts led to a wave of humanitarian crises and human trafficking in the DRC.

The Problem

The DRC is among the least developed countries in the world. Approximately 72% of the population lives in extreme poverty leaving the country’s people powerless and unprotected against the violence from internal armed conflict. Human trafficking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is prevalent as a result. Armed groups use sexual violence as an expression of power and weapon of war to degrade communities. Traffickers also take thousands of children and adults from their homes and force them into modern slavery and military service, but few victims file reports due to fear and coercion.

The standards set by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) classifies the DRC in the Tier 2 Watch List. This means that while the country is taking action to meet the TVPA’s standards, it still has high numbers of human trafficking victims, with 3,107 documented cases of children escaped from armed groups in 2019. The government has also failed to provide evidence of increasing efforts to counter severe forms of trafficking. Here is what some are doing to rectify the human trafficking in the DRC.

Combating Human Trafficking

The Free the Slaves Project is an international organization and lobby group that campaigns against modern slavery. Its initiatives in the DRC include supporting local groups to promote and improve access to education and increased transparency by companies that import minerals from the DRC. Transparency is increasingly important as mining companies are guilty of using forced labor and consumers have the power to pressure companies to use ethically sourced materials through their choices. Additionally, the Free the Slaves Project teaches communities to mobilize to eliminate slavery and educates government officials about anti-trafficking laws and their duty to enforce them. Thus far, the project has increased resistance to slavery in 15 mining communities and trained dozens of security officials and civilian prosecutors on trafficking laws.

Another project that is helping reduce human trafficking in the DRC is The Children, Not Soldiers campaign. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN started The Children, Not Soldiers campaign to encourage international action against child recruitment and use in conflict. As part of the campaign, countries that have committed grave violations against children have to sign an Action Plan committing to the enforcement of criminal laws that prohibit and punish the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. After the UN identified thousands of grave violations in the DRC in 2012, which included the abduction and recruitment of children, the country signed an Action Plan. In 2017, the campaign delisted the DRC from the Action Plan because of compliance to end and prevent the recruitment of children. For example, the DRC put several commanders of armed groups on trial for child recruitment and signed 21 commitments with armed groups to end the use of child soldiers, which led to the release of 920 children.

Continuing the Fight

While the DRC has moved up a Tier on the TVPA’s standards, there is still more the government can do to enforce international and domestic laws preventing and prohibiting human trafficking. The 2020 Trafficking in Person Report lists several recommendations to continue the progress the DRC has made to end human trafficking. This includes passing and enforcing legislative programs, training officials to identify victims and developing procedures for collecting data. However, these initiatives will require funding and guidance from experts that the DRC does not have access to. Evidently, ending human trafficking is a collective effort that requires help from everyone in the international community.

– Giselle Ramirez-Garcia
Photo: Flickr

African Vegetable StaplesAfrica has millions of hectares of viable land for large-scale agricultural operations. Many large regions of Africa are the last locations on the planet with large plots of land rich in soil nutrients and water sufficiency. New government infrastructure, a global investment and advanced technology has allowed sub-Saharan African farmers to raise crop yield. The agriculture industry is the most viable way to feed families on a small scale in villages. African vegetable staples are important as they are the bulk of the famous nutritional African diet.

Approximately 65% of the African labor force involves itself in agriculture, with the agriculture industry accounting for 32% of the region’s GDP. Governments have attempted to increase crop yield by utilizing agriculture marketing boards in order to provide more stable and standardized prices, credit extension services, technology and improved seeds. Additionally, more companies in the private sector have improved rural marketing and supply lines. These advances in extension services improve land and water management, introduce new farming techniques and provide new, efficient technology.

Essential African Vegetable Staples

Essential African vegetable staples include yams, green bananas, plantains and cassava. There are a plethora of different and unique ways of preparing dishes particular to each region and culture. Vegetables such as beans and lentils accompany almost every meal in order to provide a balanced nutritious diet. People in Africa consider meat a side dish rather than the main dish, and vegetables the main dish. Typical African vegetable staples specific to a region are dependent on the location, land viability, soil richness and water availability. Rice is more common where there is more water whereas cash crops such as groundnut are common in every household.

Many African staple foods provide a base diet for African families. African vegetable staples provide the necessary proteins, vitamins and nutrients that combat the alarming, wide-scale malnutrition issues that run rampant in many small villages that are not connected to large cities. With no access to large-scale trade or industrial resources, villagers take care of each other with personal farms. Additionally, many African vegetables also double as medicinal uses as well, allowing improved community health and nutrition.

Many staple meals accompany African’s rich variety of culture and history. The thousands of various African cultures utilize varieties of spices to prepare the same ingredient to uphold their respective traditional values and ideas. Diverse food choices are unique in each region and can range from fermented beans, sweet potato greens, teff and varieties of dumplings, to corn-based porridges, millet, kenkey, fontou and fonio. The diverse sets of languages within each region also have their own unique menus specific to their culture and certain traditions.

Case Study: The Democratic Republic of Congo

Vegetables grown in the DRC include peanuts, yams, beans, peas and maize. The political instability of the DRC has led to problems of malnutrition and lack of food access for millions of people. However, vegetables are used as an efficient solution because of the mass remote lands DRC controls for horticulture. The agriculture industry supports more than half of the DRC population. Although farming provides less than 10% of DRC’s GDP, land use is minimal to only 3.5% of DRC’s land and accounts for over 50 tons of subsistence foodstuffs.

What Next?

African vegetables have been the bulk of the African diet for millennia. Not only is it an efficient and effective way of utilizing rich soil and plentiful land on the continent, but it is also one of the most viable ways to aid the economy while doing so. Vegetables in Africa are the staple food not just for the famous nutritious diets, but also because they are an important characteristic of African identity and culture. Many African recipes eaten today have passed down generation after generation in an effort to maintain and uphold tradition. The African vegetable staples are one of the most unique characteristics of African culture and are a testament to their devotion to their diverse ideas and traditions.

Aria Ma
Photo: Flickr