Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

Solar Technology Alleviating PovertyGivePower, founded in 2013 by Hayes Barnard, is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to use solar technology in alleviating poverty worldwide. The United Nations reports that, as of 2019, “over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.” These water-related stress levels are expected to rise with increased population growth and global economic development. Ultimately, yielding a rise in poverty.

Solar Technology: A Solution to Poverty

Solar technology presents a solution to this growing, global, water crisis. This is because solar technology holds the power to supply clean water and efficient energy systems to communities located in virtually any part of the world. Since 2013, GivePower has worked to help some of the world’s poorest countries gain access to a source of clean, renewable and resilient energy. This has in turn allowed for more readily available, clean drinking water, agricultural production and self-sustaining communities. For example, in 2018 alone, GivePower granted access to clean water, electricity and food to more than 30,000 people in five countries. Since its founding, GivePower has completed projects in the following six countries:

  1. Nicaragua: Though education through the primary stages is mandatory for Nicaraguans, school enrollment numbers are low. During its first-ever, solar microgrid installation in 2014, GivePower, recognized the importance of education. In this vein, GivePower shifted its resources toward powering a school in El Islote, Nicaragua. The school’s enrollment has improved tremendously, now offering classes and resources for both children and adults.
  2. Nepal: In Nepal, access to electricity has increased by nearly 10% for the entire Nepalese population, since GivePower began installing solar microgrids in 2015. Installation occurred throughout various parts of the country. Rural villages now have access to electricity — allowing schools, businesses, healthcare services, agricultural production and other forms of technology to prosper. Part of GivePower’s work in Nepal includes installing a 6kW microgrid on a medical clinic in a rural community, ensuring essential services.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): During 2016, the GivePower team reached the DRC, where civil war has ended in a struggle for both people and the country’s wildlife. The DRC is home to many of the world’s endangered species, making protection of the country’s wildlife essential. GivePower has successfully installed solar panels for ranger stations in one of Africa’s oldest national parks. In this way, wildlife thrives. This power provides a means for rangers to meet their basic needs and increases the likelihood that rangers can protect wildlife.
  4. Puerto Rico: In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a powerful category four hurricane, devastated Puerto Rico. The disaster left many without shelter, food, power or clean water for months. GivePower intervened, installing solar microgrids and reaching more than 23,000 people. The organization provided individual water purification systems to families without access to clean drinking water and installed solar microgrids. In this effort, the main goals were to restore and encourage more disaster relief, emergency and medical services. Furthermore, the refrigeration of food and medication and the continuation of educational services were paramount in these efforts.
  5. Kenya: Typically, only about 41% of Kenyans have access to clean water for fulfilling basic human needs. Notably, about 9.4 million Kenyans drink directly from contaminated surface water. During 2018, using solar technology in alleviating poverty, GivePower provided electricity to Kenyans living in Kiunga. Moreover, GivePower also increased access to clean water through a large-scale, microgrid water desalination farm. The water farm provides clean water for about 35,000 Kenyans, daily. The organization has also reached the Namunyak Wildlife Conservatory located in Samburu, Kenya. There, GivePower installed solar panels to ensure refrigeration and communications at the conservatory.
  6. Colombia: In 2019, GivePower installed solar microgrids in Colombia to preserve one of the country’s most famous cultural heritage sites. Moreover, the microgrids helped to support research conducted in the area. The grids installed have been able to sustain a 100-acre research field and cold storage units.

Solar Technology Alleviating Poverty: Today and Tomorrow

Renewable, clean and resilient energy has granted many populations the ability to innovate. In this way, other basic, yet vital human needs are met. Using solar technology alone in alleviating poverty has been enough to create water farms that provide clean water to thousands. With water and energy for innovation — agricultural production flourishes. This, in turn, addresses hunger issues while also working toward economic development. Having already touched the lives of more than 400,000 people, GivePower and solar technology present a promising solution in alleviating global poverty.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

instability in the CongoThe Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Over the past decades, war, gender imbalances and lack of political development, as well as conservation issues, have contributed to the country’s vulnerability. Instability in the Congo has been a challenge, but citizens continue to strive for peace and security.

With a population of 84,068,091 in 2018, 50.1% of the Congo’s population are women, while 49.9% are men. The population has a nearly equal gender ratio, though women face significant challenges in gender equality. As in many developing countries, women are not respected equally and typically do not hold positions of power. In the Congo, beginning in 1996, sexual violence has been used as a war weapon to intimidate and control women during and after the war.

According to the U.N., women in the Congo suffer drastically from a lack of rights and increasing vulnerability during the rise of military operations in 2018. With cases and reports of sexual violence increasing by 34% in 2018, the need for change is apparent. The U.N. quickly addressed these issues, working with the Congolese government to negotiate for peace with the Patriotic Resistance Front of Ituri. This brought about a decrease in sexual abuse cases committed by such military groups. Though the issue remains, there was a reported 72% decrease in sexual abuse cases following the UN’s intervention.

Poverty and Poaching

A decrease in the Congo’s poverty line has also occurred over the past two decades, although according to the World Bank, 72% of the population remains under the poverty line, living on less than $1.90 a day. With more than half of the Congo’s citizens struggling to make ends meet, poaching is an increasingly significant issue. Conservation is particularly essential in developing countries in which biodiversity and wildlife create tourist attractions that provide crucial economic income. Much of the country’s wildlife, such as elephants and primates, are subject to dangerous conditions. Primates are particularly vulnerable to threats such as the bushmeat trade and the pet trade. These trades are directly linked to poverty and instability in the Congo. This is because the industry provides a source of income and food. Therefore, in order to end poaching, baseline levels of infrastructure, employment and socioeconomic stability must be attained. Until this happens, many conservation establishments, such as the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), Kahuzi National Park and Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center are working to eliminate poaching and protect endangered wildlife.

Protection and Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center was established in 2002 by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN). Following the establishment of Lwiro, many NGOs stepped up to support the center’s rehabilitation and educational practices. Lwiro gained the support of the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance (ICWCA) and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). Two women now run Lwiro: Lorena Aguirre Cadarso works as the country director, and Itsaso Vélez del Burgo works as the technical director. These two women strive to ensure that Lwiro is actively addressing cultural and conservation issues in the Congo.

The fact that Lwiro is run by women is unusual, as women in the Congo have been subject to significant gender inequality for decades. They are breaking gender barriers while protecting at-risk wildlife and helping improve instability in the Congo.

Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center

Lwiro is home to 92 chimpanzees and 108 monkeys, adding up to a total of 13 different species. Rehabilitation and preservation of primates in the Congo mean saving the lives of the endangered animals, whether they have been injured due to poaching or other reasons. Typically young primates are brought to the center because their families have been taken from them and they will be unable to provide for themselves. Lwiro offers multiple dormitories for the chimpanzees and monkeys and includes a five-acre enclosure for the primates to play while the staff ensures that the dormitories are safe and clean. The rehabilitation of primates requires care and attention, just as the care of humans requires. Infant primates are treated with particular love and attention. Caretakers strive to teach social skills to primates that might have lost their families and would not otherwise be socialized. Lwiro’s mission is to ensure that resident animals acquire the necessary social skills for reintegration into wild chimpanzee communities after completing rehabilitation.

Sexual Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation

Along with primate rehabilitation, Lwiro also offers rehabilitation and treatment for local sexual abuse victims. Sexual abuse is a pervasive issue in the Congo. The center provides treatment for victims ages 2 to 18 years old. Treatment can be modified to meet the needs of particular victims. According to Cadarso, the center helps “victims of sexual violence, victims of gender violence and widows.” The staff uses methods such as Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE), meditation and prayer. Lwiro focuses specifically on survivors’ mental health. “You need to give psychological support that aims to provide the tools to resolve their trauma and skills to promote their resilience,” Cadarso stated. Lwiro has worked with nearly 350 victims and counting, most being women and children. The center also provides therapy for individuals for three months and three weeks. It reports an 85% patient improvement rate after treatment. Lwiro’s therapy offerings reveal that addressing instability in the Congo can start at the level of individual people.

A New Psychological Reference Center

Lwiro is expanding its center in 2020, starting a new project to build the first Psychological Reference Center (PCR). In the past, victims have not had a physical place to conduct their psychotherapy sessions. Therefore, this project will be massively impactful. Additionally, the Psychological Reference Center (PCR) will implement new practices such as training primary healthcare workers training to recognize mental disorders like PTSD, depression and anxiety. The second phase will provide similar training specialized for teachers, teaching “skills to recognize children with severe problems so they can be referred for more specialized treatment,” Cadarso states, and “providing listing resources available in their communities.” This initiative will enable individuals to recognize and assist those who are struggling physically and mentally. They will be able to determine proper care or treatment.

The project’s implementation and funding would not be possible without the support of many NGOs, such as the Jane Goodall Institute, the Ivan Carter Wildlife Foundation and more. To address instability in the Congo, multiple approaches are required, and Lwiro ensures that no person — or chimp — is left behind.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

Coronavirus Data
Currently battling cholera, measles, ebola revival and the new coronavirus — the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is experiencing one of the worst public health crises in the world. The DRC has seen about 9,300 cases of coronavirus, a small number given its population. Roughly 90% of these cases are located in the Kinshasa Province,  which has a 2.3% mortality rate as of July 2020. At first glance, this number looks very small and suggests that the government has effectively prevented the spread of COVID-19. However, a hard look at coronavirus data in the DRC, reveals otherwise.

These numbers are misleading — given that over 50% of the countries’ population live in rural areas. These regions do not have the same access to testing equipment nor the technology that would provide valuable coronavirus data. As a result, the government’s main objectives now are to slow the propagation of COVID-19, support communities with insufficient medical infrastructure and strengthen the healthcare system. Mobile data is central to accomplishing these goals and avoiding further economic contraction.

The Need for Mobile Data in the DRC

Data is vital to limiting the spread of any virus, as it allows governments to obtain necessary health equipment for communities — based on existing medical infrastructure. Also, proper information enables health officials to warn at-risk citizens, promptly. Mobile data has five stages in the fight against COVID-19:

  1. Population mapping
  2. Plotting population mobility
  3. Adding data about virus spread
  4. Preparing logistics and health infrastructure
  5. Modeling the economic impacts

In countries where most of the population uses the internet, coronavirus data is available in abundance. This, in turn, allows such governments to progress through these five phases, quickly. However, the DRC’s ability to obtain and use coronavirus data is hindered by limited infrastructure. Only 17% of the country’s population has access to electricity. Furthermore, around 70% of the population lives in poverty. Therefore, only 4% can afford the internet.

Improving Information Accessibility

Recognizing its need for data to fight public health crises, the DRC is increasingly funding improved internet access. Most notably, the country partnered with Grid3, a company that helps governments collect, utilize and map demographic and infrastructure data. This results in better population estimates and enables the country to plot its healthcare centers concerning that data. Additionally, the DRC has partnered with various mobile operators, digital health specialists and public health NGOs to jumpstart its data-driven coronavirus policy project. Such projects have already produced promising results, such as mobile connectivity has risen by one million connections from 2019 to 2020.

Data Is the Key

Ultimately, data will be essential to tracking and predicting the spread of the new coronavirus as communities begin to open up. Better data will create more informed policies that will better protect the DRC’s fragile healthcare system and economy. Although the U.N. has said that 50% of all workers in Africa could lose their jobs because of the coronavirus, (putting millions more Congolese at risk of poverty) the DRC’s recent data collection efforts are promising for the future of poverty in the DRC. If the government continues to value mobile data and access to technology, poverty can be greatly reduced. Likewise, widespread electricity and internet availability, as well as the advent of a modernized, more resilient economy will increase the quality of life in the DRC.

Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr

Other Outbreaks During COVID-19
All eyes are constantly on the lookout for surges in COVID-19 cases both in one’s own country and around the world, but other outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic are on the rise and getting very little attention or preventative measures. The CDC and WHO are monitoring current outbreaks, which include alerts and warnings about an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia, Influenza A in Brazil and yellow fever in French Guiana.

“Disruption to immunization programs from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO. The question now, with most hospitals worldwide overflowing with COVID-19 cases, is how can people suffering from any other disease get the aid that they need? Taking a look at individual states around the world and how they each are handling outbreaks within the current pandemic will allow for discussion on keeping more people safe and healthy.

CDC Guidelines for Non-COVID-19 Care

The CDC has created a framework for providing non-COVID-19 care in hospitals and clinics, with a graph depicting what a patient is advised to do depending on the seriousness of their sickness or condition. Potential for patient harm, level of community transmission and symptom lists are all considered.

The CDC also lists a few key considerations for healthcare providers at this time, asking that they are prepared to detect and monitor COVID-19 cases in the community, provide care with safety procedures in mind and consider other services that may require expansion. While in theory, these are positive factors to implement during a health crisis of this magnitude, many countries with high poverty levels do not have adequate resources or staffing to ensure these practices.

Ebola and Measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

While the two-year Ebola outbreak was just declared over on June 25, 2020, the DRC is facing a rise in measles cases due to a lack of vaccines while it prioritizes COVID-19 treatments. In 2019, the percentage of vaccinated children increased from 42% to 62% in Kinshasa but the plans for a national immunization program in 2020 experienced delay.

Now, staffing is short, vaccinations are not a priority and those who are receiving vaccinations are doing so in danger of contracting COVID-19 due to lack of resources. Progress toward polio eradication is also suffering, and over 85,000 children have not received immunizations. The DRC is seemingly engaging in a three-front war, fighting numerous other outbreaks during COVID-19. Thabani Maphosa, Gavi managing director, hopes that if the pandemic clears in three months, immunizations will catch up to necessary levels within the next year and a half.

SII Concerned Over Clinical Trial Postponements

The Serum Institute of India is cautioning the public about the concerns for other outbreaks during COVID-19. Clinical preliminaries may be in danger and CEO Adar Poonawalla shared his thoughts about the findings: “The resulting dosing of the enlisted subjects has been postponed, therefore affecting the immunization plan given in the convention. In addition, follow-up visits for inoculation, well-being appraisal just as blood withdrawal are postponed.” He also mentioned the fear of hospitals due to COVID-19 contamination and the flipping of general hospitals to COVID-19-only clinics.

There have been a few other outbreaks during COVID-19 but the world has yet to see the long-term effects. While the whole world scrambles for a vaccine for COVID-19, it is not surprising that other medical and health concerns seem to be on hold, especially when countries are highly recommending or, in some cases, enforcing social distancing and quarantine. These limitations for worldwide immunization trials and vaccines mostly concentrate in low-income and low-resource areas, like the case in the DRC. While funding these areas always desperately need funding, information and discussion about the concerns are also quite valuable at this time.

– Savannah Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in the DRC
Congolese-Cypriot model Noëlla Coursaris Musunka is not just an international, fashion superstar. In addition to her successful modeling career, her charity Malaika is changing the lives of young girls and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Through her philanthropy, Coursaris Musunka aims to empower and thus, help improve girls’ education in the DRC, so they can have the most opportunities for future success.

Noëlla Coursaris Musunka

After Coursaris Musunka’s father died when she was young, her mother sent her to live with relatives in Belgium and Switzerland so that she could have a stable education. Though Coursaris Musunka succeeded academically and completed a degree in Business Management, she had little contact with her mother back home in the DRC. Their communication at that time consisted mainly of occasional letters or phone calls. As Coursaris Musunka herself said, “When you have nothing, you know that if you fall there’s no one to pick you up. So you have to stand. I resolved very early on that I would study and work and be independent.”

Realizing that many girls back home did not have access to education, she decided to start a charity to help girls’ education in the DRC. Coursaris Musunka, inspired by her own experiences and the lack of opportunity she witnessed at home, began this endeavor.

Malaika Foundation

Malaika Foundation (named after the Swahili word for “angel”) is a grassroots organization working to improve girls’ education in the DRC. Coursaris Musunka acts as the charity’s president and founder.

According to Coursaris Musunka’s personal website, Malaika “empowers Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs.” The Malaika School currently educates more than three hundred young girls with a rigorous syllabus. Notably, 100% of students have passed their year six exams since 2017. Additionally, Malaika has created 20 wells in the DRC to supply residents with drinking water. Moreover, she founded a community center that “provides education, health and sports programmes to over 5,000 youths and adults per year.”

The Malaika School in Kalebuka

Currently in its ninth year of operation, the Malaika School (located in Kalebuka) advances girls’ education in the DRC at no cost to its hundreds of students. Also, the institution serves both primary and secondary school-aged children. The school educates students on a variety of topics, including multiple languages, STEM fields and the arts. Malaika particularly emphasizes the importance of leadership to teach girls to strive for success. The school also commits itself to sustainability — providing students with breakfast and lunch every day. Importantly, these meals include fruits and vegetables, grown in the school’s own garden. Additionally, the school is “100% powered by solar energy.” After graduation, Malaika matches students with internships while other students choose to continue their education at universities or specialized colleges.

A Model Beyond Fashion

Coursaris Musunka continues to invest her free time into the charity she founded. “My message to every child,” she says, “to every young girl, is this: take your opportunity, go to school. Educate yourself. Become pioneers of education and pioneers of Africa and the world.” Coursaris Musunka is a model in the world of fashion, female leadership and educational, charity initiatives. Inspirational and influential figures such as Coursaris Musunka are doing important work in the advancement of education, especially for young girls.

Jackie McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Ebola outbreakThe Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has ravaged countries in sub-Saharan Africa since its identification in 1976. Overall, there have been 34 outbreaks of Ebola in Western Africa, 11 of which have occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The largest Ebola outbreak, considered a global pandemic, lasted from 2014 to 2016. It mostly affected countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. At the time, a total of 11,310 deaths were reported due to the disease.

The fatality rate for Ebola has ranged between 25% and 90%, depending on the severity of the outbreak and on the healthcare infrastructure of affected countries. The more modern and accessible these systems were, the more efficient the surveillance and treatment options. The second-largest outbreak of Ebola began in the Kivu region of the DRC on Aug. 1, 2018, and was only declared over as recently as June of 2020.

Containment in the DRC

Comparing the 2014 Ebola outbreak with the one that occurred in 2018 reveals a relative improvement. From 2014 to 2016, there were 28,616 EVD cases that resulted in 11,310 deaths. On the other hand, from 2018 to 2020, there were only 3,481 cases and 2,299 deaths reported.

DRC’s commendable public health response to the 2018 Ebola outbreak led to this outcome. Pre-existing infrastructural inadequacies and a lack of trust in health care officials have been the major challenges faced during Ebola occurrences. Though many of these problems continue, the better use of surveillance, contact tracing, prevention strategies and safe burial practices have greatly shaped how the most recent outbreak developed. Additionally, the global health community has made strides in vaccine development and treatment programs, making the defeat and containment of this epidemic possible.

Safe and Dignified Burials

Because the virus is transmitted through direct contact with an infected individual (living or deceased), traditional burial practices that require family members to wash the body pose a significant risk to communities during Ebola outbreaks.

In 2014, rural populations of Sierra Leone experienced surges in reported Ebola cases as a direct result of community members’ attending funerals and touching infected corpses. Since then, the CDC, the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the WHO have provided guidelines for safe protocols when handling potentially infected corpses. These protocols involve trained personnel and extensive personal protective equipment (PPE). During the recent contained Ebola outbreak, 88% of funerals utilized safe and dignified burial practices.

Vaccination Efforts

As a result of the most recent epidemic, 16,000 local responders and 1,500 WHO health workers collaborated to provide effective vaccines to 303,000 people. Individuals were considered eligible for vaccination if they had previous contact with an infected individual or were a frontline worker in an affected or at-risk area. Treatment centers, field laboratories and an Ebola national care program were also set up to care for patients, providing weekly test samples and follow-up with survivors.

EVD versus COVID-19

The world has seen other deadly viruses before COVID-19. SARS, Ebola and even the annual flu are some examples. COVID-19 stands out because it is easily spreadable and the rate of asymptomatic transmission is high. Asymptomatic transmission occurs when individuals don’t know they are infected and, as a result, spread the virus without knowing. Even though Ebola is highly contagious toward the end of the infection period, infected individuals show intense symptoms, so it is not easy for the virus to fly under the radar as COVID-19 tends to do.

Moreover, while health responses against Ebola are significant in fighting the spread of the virus, the vaccine and treatments are the real superheroes in protecting large populations and infected patients from the virus. As the world witnessed in the 2014 outbreak, Ebola left a devastating death toll in its wake without a vaccine. There are currently no viable vaccine or treatment options for the coronavirus, although development is currently in progress.

Moving Forward

Because preparedness plays a large role in within-country health responses, it is hopeful that future Ebola outbreaks will be contained. The health responses, vaccination programs and treatment options utilized by the DRC are applicable to other countries as well. Aid from WHO and other health agencies will lessen the threat of Ebola in Western Africa and the world.

– Nye Day
Photo: Flickr


The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country located in Central Africa and home to 84.07 million people. About 72% of the population live on less than $2 a day, making the DRC one of the world’s poorest countries. Because many live in extreme poverty, the community is vulnerable to diseases and suffers greatly, especially children. Here are five facts to know about children living in the DRC.

5 Facts About Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. Disease: Though life for children in the DRC has dramatically improved over the years, there is still much more work to be done. The child mortality rate for children under the age of five is 88.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. Diseases are the most persistent threat to children, with thousands dying from numerous ongoing epidemics a year. Primary illnesses children in the DRC face include measles, cholera and malaria. Measles, being the most severe disease, killed over 6,000 children in 2019. Around 85% of these deaths were children under the age of 5. Now, COVID-19 poses a significant challenge for the DRC as it is one of the most at-risk countries in Africa. Additionally, the global pandemic has hampered vaccine deliveries to the DRC, causing children’s lives to be more at stake than ever.
  2. Malnutrition: More than six million children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Without proper nutrition, around 46% of children in the DRC are stunted in growth and development. Moreover, the pandemic will likely lead to a rise in food costs worldwide, causing impoverished countries like the DRC, which already suffers from a lack of resources and economic stability, to become food insecure. If food becomes more expensive, the already high malnutrition rates will also reach a tragic tipping point.
  3. Education: Education is the key to a better future away from poverty. It is also a critical factor in improving health practices, essential services and the DRC’s overall socio-economic status. Unfortunately, almost seven million children from ages 5 to 17 do not go to school or have any proper education. Because of political instability caused by wars and natural disasters, the DRC is currently unable to have universal primary education. Money is also a significant obstacle to receiving education since much of a child’s education costs falls on the parents. Those who can attend school also find high dropout rates, as there is a low quality of teaching. Factors such as child labor, marriage and health conditions also contribute to children’s lack of access to education.
  4. Homelessness: Homelessness is also a big issue for children in the DRC. Almost 30,000 children under the age of 18 suffered from homelessness in 2011. There are many reasons for homelessness, such as war-conflict, diseases, unemployment and internal displacement. Often, mothers who have children from sexual abuse abandon their children due to trauma. With no proper child protection institutions in the DRC, children have no choice but to live on the street. Due to the lack of a support system, many children are forced into illegal acts to obtain access to food, shelter and other basic amenities.
  5. Violence: The DRC has one of the highest ratings in terms of violence against children, especially sexual violence. In 2018, over 250 girls were sexually abused during inter-communal disputes. One in two women between the ages of 25 and 49 are affected by forced child marriages, often resulting in teenage pregnancies. About 27% of girls between the ages of 15 to 19 are pregnant, securing the DRC a spot in the top 10 countries with the highest levels of teen pregnancies. In 2017, over 800,000 children in the DRC were forced to leave because of the vicious internal conflict, which in result forced them to live in brutal weather conditions and safety hazards. Child soldiers are also not uncommon in the DRC. In 2018, over 600 cases of child recruitments were documented by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children of Armed Conflict.

Despite all that DRC children suffer from, conditions have been improving drastically over the last few years. With help from donors and organizations, there is high hope that the safety, health and standard of living will only continue to improve for children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Pixabay

Homelessness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a country roughly three times the size of Texas, rich in fertile land, minerals, precious metals and potential for green energy initiatives. Despite this, approximately 72% of Congolese people live in extreme poverty. Located in central Africa, the DRC has experienced decades of dictatorship and civil war after gaining its independence.

The DRC enjoyed a brief respite from tension when its civil war ended in 2003, and in 2019, the nation saw its first peaceful transfer of power since independence. Though these developments are promising, many of the nearly 90 million people who call DRC home do not consistently have a home. Here are some facts about homelessness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that are worth knowing.

Understanding Homelessness and Displacement

Homelessness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is better understood in terms of displacement. While displaced people may actually have had resources to build a home, they have been forced to move repeatedly, usually suddenly, because of violence or disaster. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that more than five million people are currently internally displaced in the DRC, making up one-tenth of the entire world’s internally displaced people. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is second only to Syria in terms of the magnitude of its displacement crisis.

Several factors overlap to contribute to homelessness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Violence by armed groups, ethnic conflicts, natural disasters, joblessness and scarcity of accessible resources all play a significant role in displacement. Any of the more than 120 armed groups operating in the region may clash with one another or the military because of political tensions or illegal mining operations. On the other hand, natural disasters like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, fires, floods and landslides may combine with these conflicts to cause homelessness.

A significant number of the DRC’s homeless people are refugees from other countries. While Congolese people often leave the DRC for other countries, about half a million displaced people in the DRC are actually foreign refugees themselves. They come mainly from Burundi, Rwanda and the Central African Republic. Many of these refugees have fled disaster, violence or instability in their own home countries. Because of this, patterns of displacement are complex, ever-changing and challenging to track.

Homelessness Among Children

Families are especially impacted by these incessant conflicts, and the instability takes a toll on children. Farming families miss planting and harvesting times due to drought or forced flight from their homes. Other displaced people may be exploited for prostitution or child labor. Similarly, some children whose parents die live unattended in the streets. In the capital of Kinshasa alone, there are about 30,000 “street children” who are at risk for assault and exploitation every day.

To combat these obstacles, between 2015 and 2017, the Danish Refugee Council helped 26,000 school-aged Congolese children return to school and trained over 1,000 teachers and volunteers. The organization has also partnered with UNICEF, UNHCR and other NGOs to provide basic necessities to households, as well as counseling services to children who have experienced trauma.

Organizations Making a Difference

Aid organizations, nongovernmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations do not always have adequate funding and capacity to protect people from homelessness. Without assistance, homeless people may stay with relatives or a host family; those without that option may resort to living in settlements made up of makeshift structures. Others find shelter in more secure displacement camps, such as UNHCR’s South Ubangi Mole refugee camp in northwestern DRC, which has 15,000 inhabitants.

However, none of these situations is totally secure; armed individuals occasionally pass security checkpoints to assault inhabitants of displacement camps. Limited funding, close living conditions and insufficient sanitation do not allow residents of camps to protect themselves. This makes it easier for communicable illnesses like cholera, Ebola and COVID-19 to spread.

Humanitarian aid organizations and data-gathering agencies, along with local volunteers, lead the charge in helping track and mitigate homelessness and its effects. It is no small task to accurately measure the extent of displacement. The DRC’s massive size, porous borders and challenging geography all add to the challenge of this job.

Although the Congolese government does not have its own mechanism for tracking internal displacement, outside organizations present in the DRC have developed tools to assist. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre uses the latest technology to compile information from organizations and locals to provide an accurate picture of displacement in the region. Its tools bring together research, real-time reports and satellite imaging to assess where the greatest needs currently are. Some other organizations also assisting displaced people in the DRC are USAID and Amnesty International.

Hope for the Homeless

Though the DRC may still have miles to go, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee recently introduced H. Res 531 and H.R. 1191, a simple resolution and bill, respectively, which are aimed at protecting Congolese children. These measures, along with other existing laws, could help create more accountability for foreign entities who allow exploitation and violence that contribute to displacement and homelessness.

At a recent security council meeting, Leila Zerrougui, Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) commended President Tshikesedi’s “reform agenda and improved relations with neighboring countries” as evidence of improvement in the DRC. President Tshikesedi himself seemed optimistic during these talks; he reiterated the gains he has made in securing the country since his election in 2019 and renewing his commitment to securing a brighter future for his people.

– Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

measles in democratic republic of congoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a measles outbreak in June 2019. Since then, more than 310,000 have been affected by this epidemic. Measles is an extremely contagious and airborne disease that can cause rashes, fevers and coughing. The virus is especially dangerous for children. Most developed countries can combat measles through vaccinations, but developing countries aren’t able to fully eradicate and achieve a herd immunity of a sizeable population majority, leading to constant outbreaks.

How COVID-19 is Affecting the Situation

Due to COVID-19, more than 117 million children could not receive their measles vaccine following the halt of vaccination campaigns. Measles may kill more people in developing countries than COVID-19 if outbreaks continue. At least 6,500 children have already died from measles in the DRC. Most world leaders are focusing on COVID-19 rather than the vaccine-preventable diseases that could potentially wreak havoc on developing nations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently leading the world in the highest numbers of measles cases. This trend is likely to continue without significant aid and the continuation of vaccination campaigns. The DRC also has an incredibly weak healthcare system, so it greatly relies on NGOs and foreign aid to administer vaccines & life-saving medicines to the country.

Other Diseases in the DRC

In addition to measles, the DRC is currently combating cholera, polio, COVID-19 and Ebola. “On June 1, 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared its eleventh Ebola outbreak.” This is before the tenth outbreak was declared over on June 25, 2020; however, WHO has stated that these two outbreaks are separate. Due to the limited resources caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this outbreak will be harder to contain than previous outbreaks.

In the past, multiple Ebola outbreaks have drawn more attention than the measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now, COVID-19 is drawing more attention than measles. However, all three diseases need to be dealt with alongside the other diseases harming the DRC. During an Ebola outbreak in earlier months, measles was overlooked, which led to a resurgence. Measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must receive the attention necessary to combat it. In addition to the disease itself, the DRC is also suffering from malnutrition, food insecurity and economic uncertainty. All of these factors make the population more vulnerable to other diseases, particularly children.

How To Help

The best way to help combat measles in the DRC is to ensure vaccination campaigns can start again. An increase in foreign aid will help the nation reach this goal. The DRC needs to achieve 95% vaccination to recover, but that goal seems incredibly unlikely due to the current COVID-19 panic. With the majority of the world also focused on COVID-19, it is unlikely that the DRC will receive all the international aid they require at this time. An additional $40 million will be needed on top of the $27.6 million received to successfully fight measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Organizations like Doctors Without Borders are continuously working to fight measles outbreaks in DRC. As of June 2020, the organization has succeeded in vaccinating 82,000 children after “three back-to-back campaigns.” Doctors Without Borders cautions the world that measles cannot be ignored even with the current COVID-19 crisis. They are taking extra precautions during this time to reduce the risk of co-infection.

While COVID-19 is an important and urgent issue, it is imperative that leaders continue to send help to those abroad struggling with the fall-outs of poverty whenever possible. Measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one example of how important foreign assistance and vaccination campaigns are in saving lives in developing countries.

– Jacquelyn Burrer
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in the Democratic Republic of the CongoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is ranked 19th globally for the percentage of girls who are married before they reach their 18th birthday (37%). A 2017 UNICEF study with this data also showed the DRC ranking ninth highest for the absolute number of child brides, at 1.3 million. These figures tell a story beyond girls marrying young — a narrative of recursive poverty and lack of education. But child marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo can be beaten. In fact, new programs for female education and community engagement are emerging every day to address this issue.

Identifying the Roots of Child Marriage

There are four main drivers of child marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: poverty, armed conflict, adolescent pregnancy and cultural traditions.

  • Poverty: As of 2018, 72% of the population of the DRC lived in extreme poverty. The practice of child marriage is a key indicator of poverty in a community. When a family gives a daughter away in marriage, they lower their own expenses. They no longer have to feed, clothe or educate the daughter. In addition, the promise of bride price is a motivating factor behind child marriage in the DRC. Bride price is an old tradition practiced in different areas across Africa. Unlike dowry, bride price entails exchanging money or valuable items from the groom’s family to the bride’s family as a record of their marriage. Historically, bride price helped tie two families together and strengthen the community as a whole. Today, it acts more as legal proof of marriage, used to determine the lineage of children or to secure inheritance. Families perceive the promise of wealth as an incentive for early marriage. For girls, however, the chance of receiving an education after early marriage is slim. As a result, girls who marry before the age of 18 in the DRC are less able to earn an income and to lift themselves, and their families, out of poverty.

  • Armed conflict: According to a study done by the U.N., around 200,000 girls and women have experienced sexual violence in the DRC since 1998. Ongoing military conflicts in the eastern DRC, Rwanda and Uganda are part of the cause of this high number. The continued prevalence of armed conflict has led to some young girls being forced to marry perpetrators of sexual violence.

  • Adolescent Pregnancy: Sexual health and education are not widely practiced in DRC, which leads to a lack of contraception and family planning. Early pregnancies can sometimes result in child marriage, as families hope to secure stability for later life. The cultural expectation that women will marry and become mothers leads to low contraception use, which can also contribute to adolescent pregnancies.

  • Cultural Traditions: Underlying all these drivers of child marriage in the DRC, is the cultural belief that girls are inferior to boys. As a result of internalized gender inequality, the global prevalence of child marriage among boys is one-sixth of that among girls. Accordingly, programs designed to oppose child marriage typically emphasize female empowerment and education. One such organization, Debout Fille, was established in 2005 to “defend and protect the rights of girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Empowering Girls

Debout Fille operates across DRC in many rural and urban communities. The organization is working toward “eliminating violence and harmful practices and achieving universal access to education and sexual and reproductive health.” In South Kivu, a region heavily affected by the conflict between Ugandan and Rwandan rebels, Debout Fille is partnering with Women’s WorldWide Web (W4) to fight the cycle of child marriage. Through new “Digital Learning Clubs and Spaces,” girls and young women are learning about reproductive and sexual health. These clubs help girls establish “Girls’ Parliaments,” through which they can engage in community decision-making and political advocacy to oppose child marriage. “Parents’ Schools” are also working to engage and educate parents. Debout Fille is currently training 1,200 girls and local community members. 

About 37% of girls in the DRC marry before reaching their 18th birthday. Poverty, armed conflict, adolescent pregnancy and cultural traditions can all be causes of child marriage. Organizations like Debout Fille are working to decrease child marriage through things like sexual and reproductive health education. While this is just one solution, it is an important step toward using education to end child marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Elizabeth Price
Photo: Pixabay