Inflammation and stories on Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ebola VaccineThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is currently facing its worst outbreak of Ebola in the country’s northeastern regions, with over 2,000 declared cases, but in cooperation with the DRC’s government, the World Health Organization (WHO) has worked to provide Ebola vaccine for those who are at risk of contracting the virus.

First declared by the DRC’s government in June 2018, the Ebola outbreak has resulted in the death of over 1,000 people, and cases have also spread into neighboring Uganda. This outbreak is the second largest ever Ebola epidemic, after the outbreak that took place in West Africa from 2014-2016. There is worry that the virus could spread across the nation’s eastern borders or into major cities.

How the WHO is Combatting Ebola with Vaccines

The Ebola vaccine that the WHO uses is known as Merck’s V920, and was first employed in the early stages of an outbreak in the DRC’s Equateur province. The WHO was able to contain the virus and put an end to the epidemic in that province in under three months, although 33 people unfortunately still fell victim to the Ebola virus. When the DRC officially declared an outbreak, the Ebola vaccine, although still unlicensed, was employed on the grounds of compassionate use. The Ebola vaccine was highly effective, achieving a nearly 100 percent protection rate for more than 119,000 people living in the eastern provinces of Ituri and North Kivu.

The WHO is following a “ring vaccination” strategy, which proved successful in fighting the epidemic in Equateur. In this strategy, all those who are known contacts of people who contracted Ebola are offered the Ebola vaccine. Then, the WHO offers the vaccine to any contacts of those, as well as to anyone classified as at particularly high risk of contracting the virus, such as healthcare workers. By forming a ring of immunity around someone that is confirmed to have Ebola, they are able to reduce the chance that the virus will spread.

However, the ring vaccination strategy is quite time consuming, as it requires what is known as “contact tracing” in which every single person diagnosed with Ebola must disclose every single person that they might have been in contact with. By following this ring vaccination strategy, the WHO was able to vaccinate more than 119,000 people from August 2018 to May 2019. However, despite the vaccine’s high success rate, the number of cases continued to grow. Due to increased occurrences of violence in the country, it is more difficult for aid workers to build these vaccination rings around those who are at risk.

Modifying the Vaccination Strategy

On May 7, 2019, the WHO’s Strategic Board of Experts (SAGE) announced new recommendations that would significantly modify the vaccination strategy in order to strengthen their fight against the virus. These new recommendations focus on adjusting the dosage of the vaccine, offering an alternative vaccine for those that are at a lower risk of contracting Ebola, expanding the scope of people that are eligible for one and working to accelerate the vaccination process. In addition, SAGE recommends that the WHO provide a different vaccine to those in affected areas that are at a low risk. Johnson & Johnson have developed a MVA-BN vaccine that is currently being investigated and is at an advanced stage in moving towards deployment.

In order to expand the scope of people that can receive the vaccine, the WHO will begin to establish “pop up” vaccination sites in villages so that everyone in an area who consents to the vaccine can receive it (the WHO says that 90 percent of people consent to the Ebola vaccine). SAGE recommends that the WHO also work to vaccinate members of neighborhoods and villages where a case has been reported within the last three weeks. Vaccinating entire villages will ensure that the virus’s movement is limited, and will definitely make it much easier to contain.

Together with the DRC’s government, WHO has made great strides in fighting against the Ebola outbreak and working to contain the virus. In establishing the ring strategy that focuses on vaccinating individuals that may have been in contact with the virus, the WHO has been successfully able to build rings of immunity. The WHO has used the highly efficacious Merck’s V920 vaccine to vaccinate over 119,000 people and continues to research additional vaccines and strategies. The WHO continues to refine their approach so they can contain the Ebola epidemic as soon as possible and save as many lives as they can.

– Nicholas Bykov
Photo: Boston University

Top 10 Facts About Rwanda Child Soldiers
Rwanda is an African country whose history is marred by colonialism, civil war, political turmoil and genocide. Since the 1994 genocide that killed nearly one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu, the country continues to deal with the aftermath of this suffering.

One of the central issues during the genocide and even today in the post-genocide environment has been the role of child soldiers. Here are the top 10 facts about Rwanda child soldiers.

Top 10 Facts About Rwanda Child Soldiers

  1. Post-genocide, many Rwandan survivors fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, as violence surged in the Congo and a genocide of its own erupted there, Congolese rebels forced Rwandan boys to become soldiers for their cause.
  2. Children are a vulnerable population that are more susceptible to be forced or recruited into child armies. This vulnerability is structural according to Human Rights Watch: “Government officials have done little to protect these children’s rights…traditional societal networks have been severely eroded by poverty, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and, not least, the consequences of the genocide and war.”
  3. According to Michael Wessels, author of Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection, children are more likely to be recruited as soldiers because “They can be psychologically manipulated through a deliberate programme of starvation, thirst, fatigue, voodoo, indoctrination, beatings, the use of drugs and alcohol, and even sexual abuse to render them compliant to the new norms of child soldiering.”
  4. More than 50 percent of Rwanda’s population is 19 years old or younger and orphans account for 10 percent of this demographic. With limited access to money, shelter, education and other necessities, many of these vulnerable children fall prey to child armies.
  5. In the neighboring country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the rebel military group M23 worked with the Rwandan Defense Force to train child soldiers.
  6. With promises of money, education and jobs, children—many of them orphaned or living in extreme poverty—fell prey to the Rwandan Defense Force which falsely claimed children would be trained for the Rwandan army, not for M23.
  7. Romeo Dallaire witnessed the Rwandan genocide firsthand as a U.N. peacekeeper. According to Dallaire, one of the reasons for employing child soldiers is that “they are viewed as expendable, replaceable.”
  8. For the past 20 years, Rwanda has been working to demobilize Rwandan child soldiers and reintegrate them into Rwandan society. As of 2013, the Rwandan government demobilized about 3,000 child soldiers.
  9. Although the Rwandan government made successful moves to reduce the number of child soldiers, some reports suggest that simultaneously, the Rwandan government recruited some of those same children as soldiers. Following these accusations, the United States denied military funding to the Rwandan Army.
  10. In efforts to help reintegrate former child soldiers, the Lake Muhazi Centre is just one of many places that runs a three-month course that offers counseling, recreational activities, and job training to help facilitate assimilation back into Rwandan society.

Although Rwanda made great strides to demobilize the child soldiers that its own army produced, many child soldiers remain in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was not until 2013 that the Rwandan government acknowledged its role in the production of child soldiers and has, since then, made great efforts to combat this atrocity.

– Morgan Everman
Photo: Pixabay

Credit Access in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country ripe with investment opportunities mainly due to its abundant natural resources, population size and predominantly open trading system. At the same time, it is also a challenging country for business because of its weak financial system, widespread corruption and bribery.

Overall, credit access in the Democratic Republic of Congo is limited, therefore the country has a scarce and short-term credit volume history.

Financial System in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Congolese financial system has less than 10 licensed banks, one single development bank, 120 microfinance institutions and has no equity or debt markets. The lack of a substantial financial sector prevents the Congolese from participating in the global market. The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (GDRC) is working to improve and enhance regulatory measures over its economic environment.

The GDRC’s National Agency for Investment Promotion (ANAPI) is responsible for monitoring initial investments that have a value larger than $200,000. ANAPI is required to make the investment process streamlined and transparent for new foreign investors with the goal of improving the country’s image as an investment destination. The GDRC has enacted investment regulations to prohibit foreign investors from conducting business in small retail commerce. These regulations also prohibit a foreign investor from becoming a majority shareholder in the agricultural sector.

Partnership for Financial Inclusion

The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo contains laws meant to combat internal corruption, bribery and the illegal activities of all Congolese citizens. Unfortunately, these laws are rarely enforced, and when they are observed, the application is politically motivated. The corruption negatively impacts the country’s exports and the economy as it discourages foreign investors. In 2013, the IMF withdrew a $532 million loan because the GDRC refused to disclose details surrounding the sale of 25 percent of a state-owned copper project. Without foreign direct investment (FDI), job growth remains stagnant and low wages remain, resulting in the inability to get credit. All of the issues contributing to the fragile state of credit access in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be rectified with innovation and reformation.

The GDRC’s push for advancement is not lost on some U.S. investors, evidenced by the Partnership for Financial Inclusion, a $37.4 million joint venture between the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Mastercard Foundation that focuses its interests on financial inclusion in sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative aims to expand microcredit and develop digital financial services that are present now in the DRC, as many of the country’s banks are using mobile services.

Credit Access in the Democratic Republic of Congo

According to the World Bank, current statistics show the strength of legal rights index for the DRC to be six on a scale from zero to 12. This score indicates how the GDRC’s collateral and bankruptcy laws protect borrowers and lenders. The country has no electronic infrastructure listing debtors’ names and wages and lacks any unified registry. In DRC, there are no established rules that work on behalf of its citizens to make it easy to establish credit access. The depth of credit information index shows the DRC ranks zero on a scale of zero to eight. This index measures rules that affect the quality of available credit information and its accessibility to credit bureaus.

The World Bank’s statistics show that within the DRC’s economy, an integrated legal framework for secured transactions exists. However, this framework is a one-stop shop where interagency communication and transactions occur in non-digital systems. This framework is comprised of governmental agencies that expedite registration of DRC companies. A digital infrastructure could allow for a much more fluid and rapid increase in the establishment of digital financial services.

Digital financial services include cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Cryptocurrencies are digital or virtual money that use encryption to safeguard, regulate and verify the currency and transfer of funds. Cryptocurrencies are not subject to commercial or governmental control and remove corruption from the equation by preventing illegal facilitation payments. Virtual currencies are the foundation for digital economies and financial inclusion. They can reform the Congolese banking system and fund areas such as health care and education.

A digital economy can pave the way for improved personal savings and increased credit access in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a study about the impact of digital financial inclusion on inclusive economic growth and development, individuals in rural areas who regularly save their money have more of an ability to feed their families. Results also show they feel socially included with the use of digital services or agent banking, which is not the case with traditional banks.

A nominal percentage of the DRC population has accounts with traditional banks, but thanks to the Partnership for Financial Inclusion, that reality is changing. The country’s goal of expanding microfinance and developing digital services throughout the DRC is slowly actualizing, as is evident by the GDRC’s economic governance of its business climate. It also is evident by their scores for the strength of legal rights index and depth of credit information index.

Because of these scores, the range of credit access in the Democratic Republic of Congo widens, but the country’s laws and corruption still are hurdles that must be overcome in order for the credit access and credit volume to reach ideal numbers.

– Julianne Russo
Photo: Pixabay

Consequences of Interconnected Poverty: Angola and The DRC
The latest story in a seemingly endless news cycle about violence and mining in central Africa focuses on the neighboring countries of Angola and The DRC (the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Both countries are mineral rich, but this story, along with many others, is rooted in the poverty that resulted from the exploitation of these resources by Western countries. 

The Violence Between Angola and the DRC

How did Angola come to host such vast numbers of DRC migrants and refugees that a humanitarian crisis was possible? In recent years, many Congolese diamond miners have crossed the border between Angola and the DRC to take advantage of Angola’s mining industry. In the DRC, the supply chain and mines are more government regulated, creating a lower profit margin for miners. Apparently, Angola’s president, João Lourenço, recently decided that, because the government was not financially benefitting from these migrations, the Congolese must leave.

This has catalyzed a series of violent expulsions by Angola’s military and police about which The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNCHR) has expressed concern. Congolese have been murdered, raped, looted, burned out of their homes, separated from their children and stranded. The Kasai Province of the DRC, which is on the country’s northeastern border with Angola, has become overcrowded with more than 200,00 of expelled migrants. The UNCHR cautions that such an influx to an already unstable region could cause a humanitarian crisis.

A Brief History of Angola

Angola and the DRC have similar, intertwined stories of colonial rule, civil wars and poverty that have been integral in creating the current problem. The Portuguese established a settlement at Luanda Bay in 1576, which eventually became the colony of Angola. Wealth from natural resources desired in the West and the Portuguese involvement in the Atlantic slave trade fueled the colony at the expense of its native people.

A revolution in Portugal allowed Angolans to gain its independence in 1975. However, leaders of different nationalist movements within Angola clashed, leading to a civil war that, with some interludes, ravished the country from 1975 to 2002 with an estimated 1.5 million Angolan lives lost and another 4 million Angolans displaced.

While the end of the civil war allowed Angola to focus on harnessing its natural resources, the country’s history still manifests in extreme poverty. The improving economy has mostly benefitted the wealthy while 20 percent of the population remains unemployed and five million Angolans live in slum conditions.

The diamond mining industry that the economy depends on was originally created for European gain, meaning that safety standards for Angolans were never established. In Africa as a whole, an estimated one million miners earn less than one dollar a day, a wage below the extreme poverty line. Besides having few wage or labor regulations in Angola, an estimated 46 percent of miners are between the ages of five and 16. It is a sad irony that the industry the economy needs fuels poverty and oppression.

A Brief History of the DRC

Angola and the DRC have followed a similar developmental pattern, and therefore, experience poverty similarly. The DRC has also progressed from colonial rule to civil wars and violence, creating poverty that manifests in a growing gap between the rich and poor and an economy based on unjust mining conditions. This led to the violence and conflict between the two countries that are so prevalent in the current news cycle.

The area that now constitutes the DRC dates back to The Berlin West African Conference in 1884-45, where the Great Powers of Europe at the time officially divided the land, making their own colonial boundaries that ignored tribal and ethnic distinctions. After the division, Belgium’s King Leopold II officially began exploiting the DRC’s natural resources and its inhabitants with slave labor.

The DRC became independent in 1960. However, the instability of the new government and continued attempts of outside involvement from Belgium led to the Congo Crisis, essentially five years of violence and political instability. Another civil war, involving Angola and most of the surrounding area in what some term Africa’s World War, consumed the region from 1997-2003.

Because these wars were rooted in the colonial past, infrastructure and stability were lacking. An estimated six out of seven people in the DRC live on less than $1.25 a day. Approximately 2.9 million Congolese have been internally displaced by the violence. Since Belgium focused on the abundant natural resources, jobs like mining became the main vocation for Congolese. Additionally, Belgium neglected to oversee education in the DRC, leaving many unequipped for jobs outside the mines. The DRC once supplied a fourth of the world’s diamond supply, but that number has dropped significantly in recent years, in favor of other resources like cobalt, leaving the remaining diamond miners even less prosperous.

Interconnected Poverty Between Angola and the DRC

Angola and the DRC have become linked as these DRC miners seek opportunities across the border. The countries’ colonial pasts have made them dependent on natural resources as part of their attempts to combat poverty and recover from civil war. But, in this case, attempts to financially recover have led to more violence as both the Angolan government and the DRC’s miners strive to earn enough money from diamond sales.

There is a political undercurrent as well due to the DRC’s President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down since his maximum constitutional mandate ended in 2016. Interconnected government concerns due to the close proximity and a historical tendency for government conflict to become violent have been part of Angola and the DRC’s relationship for years.

In Africa’s World War, Angola supported a rebel coalition that removed DRC military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko from power in 1997, assisted the DRC in combating rebel movements from Rwanda and Uganda in 1998 and supported President Joseph Kabila at the start of his term. This war caused many refugees to seek asylum in Angola in the first place, and fear of another such conflict if Kabila does not step down, seems to be reverberating in the current violent expulsion.

However, based on the economic growth seen since the war’s end, the potential exists for two countries to improve their poverty rates. Angola has seen an average annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increase of 8.68 percent with the help of foreign investment and high oil prices. Although in the past two years there have been GDP decreases, the overall trend is positive. The DRC’s GDP has also averaged increases since 2002, although it has fluctuated more. These growth rates reveal hope for those living in poverty in Angola and the DRC if the governments can avoid further violence and instability and begin to combat gaps between the rich and poor.

– Charlotte Preston

Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the CongoFor Western civilizations, it is hard to comprehend the usage of children as soldiers for different purposes in other countries. It is hard even to imagine a child holding a gun. However, child soldiers are a very real epidemic in most of the African continent. This problem is prevalent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Central Africa. In order to better understand the situation in this country, in the text below the top 10 facts about the child soldiers are presented.

Top 10 Facts about Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  1. DRC has been infected with many different forms of armed conflict for over 20 years. A cruel tactic that the soldiers have acquired is recruiting and abducting children from their homes and enlisting them to fight, mostly against their will. It is also important to note that over 35 percent of these children were recruited voluntarily.
  2. Of the children enlisted as child soldiers in the DRC, one-third are young girls. Unfortunately, these girls are used as “wives” for the older men and face cruel sexual abuse from commanders and soldiers alike. Of the children released from the armies only 7 percent were girls but the organization Child Soldiers International is fighting hard to safely return as many girls as possible back to their families and homes.
  3. While the Child Soldiers International organization focuses heavily on ending the exploitation of girls they also work hard in researching, advocating and raising awareness to prevent the general recruitment of child soldiers in the DRC. They work tirelessly with the U.N., Congolese organizations and the DRC government in their efforts.
  4. Children as young as 6 have been recruited and children from ages 8 to 16 make up at least 60 percent of the soldiers in the region.
  5. Child soldiers suffer from immense psychological trauma as well as the struggle with the reintegration to everyday life. There are many organizations at work to help with the reintegration process such as the Action Center for Youth and Vulnerable Children (CAJED) that provides support and job skill training for those in need.
  6. The DRC government, while it was slow to intervene at first, is not sitting back while the recruitment of child soldiers continues. It has recently signed all international agreements, treaties and protocols with regards to child soldiers in the country.
  7. Of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers in the world, approximately 10 percent were from the DRC in 2003.
  8. In 2012 the DRC’s government signed an Action Plan with the U.N. to stop the enlistment of child soldiers into any form of armed forces. This endeavor has drastically decreased the number of child soldiers but there are still illegal enlistments that go undocumented.
  9. In 2014, The DRC was listed as a tier three country, meaning there were very serious threats in terms of child trafficking in the country. Over 1,000 children were being either recruited for the armed forces or released from.
  10. The creator of the CAJED, Gilbert Munda, was once a child soldier himself in the DRC. He has paired his organization with UNICEF and focuses a lot of its efforts specifically in the DRC.

The recruitment and enlistment of child soldiers are one of the greatest humanitarian issues that our world faces. While the number of child soldiers has declined significantly over the years, there is still much that is needed to be done, but as with any other problem, the first step is acknowledgment.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Despite its abundance of valuable natural resources, including copper and oil, as well as a picturesque landscape that once drew wealthy tourists from around the world, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been plagued by political instability, leaving the Congolese people struggling to survive. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in The Democratic Republic of Congo

  1. Since acquiring the presidency following his father’s assassination in 2001, Joseph Kabila has followed the recent trend in accumulating wealth for himself and his constituents while ignoring the desperation the majority of his country endures. Nearly 50 percent of the DRC’s wealth belongs to the top 20 percent of its citizens while the bottom 20 percent has only 5-6 percent of the wealth.
  2. Almost 65 percent of people living in the DRC fall below the poverty line. This number has been decreasing in recent years; however, it still places the country near the very bottom of the list of wealthy nations.
  3. While the DRC has been trending towards urbanization in recent decades, more than 60 percent of the Congolese people still reside in small, tribal communities that have been regularly targeted by armed rebel militias. Raids by these militias have forced residents from their homes for fear of their lives, leaving many to seek refuge in displacement camps, such as The Mugunga III camp in the North Kivu province, whose lack of security has made it a target for militias to raid in search of resources.
  4. The DRC has one of the highest birthrates in the world with an average of 6.6 children per mother, which has led to an increasing shortage of food. Roughly 70 percent of the Congolese people lack adequate access to food and 23 percent of children are malnourished. Groups like Actions Against Hunger are working to provide food, household items and healthcare to displaced populations in the north.
  5. The infant mortality rate in the DRC is one of the highest in the world due to a lack of accessibility to hospitals and doctors. Because so many people are without health care, the infants who do survive often go unvaccinated until later in life. However, in recent years, these trends have shown improvement with the infant mortality rate dropping from 15 percent to 10 percent and vaccination rates increasing from 31 percent to 45 percent for children under 24 months of age.
  6. Despite Kabila’s efforts to block foreign aid to the DRC for fear that it will deter investors from putting money into his country’s industries, The U.N. has not slowed down in its effort to provide support. In April of 2018, The U.N. held a donor conference with the goal of raising 1.7 billion dollars to provide food, shelter and medical attention to the Congolese people.
  7. In October of 2017, The United Nations placed the DRC on its Level 3 emergency list, the highest recognition of crisis, due to unacceptable living conditions that roughly 4.5 million Congolese people have had to endure.
  8. Despite malaria being one of the DRC’s most prominent health crises, constituting nearly 20 percent of deaths for children under five years of age, groups such as The World Health Organization are working to promote prevention, education and treatment to combat malaria and other diseases.
  9. Life expectancy in the DRC is 48 years for men and 52 for women. Comparatively, life expectancy in the U.S. is 76 years for men and 81 for women. The top causes of death include treatable conditions such as malaria, respiratory infection and diarrheal diseases.
  10. Due to increasing pressure from the Congolese people, foreign aid groups and leaders of other countries threatening sanctions against the DRC, the Congolese government has increased its health budget by nearly five percent from 2011 to 2015.

Despite these top 10 facts about living conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo revealing a history plagued by political corruption, disease and a lack of accessibility to basic resources, the DRC currently finds itself in a transitional period that could begin to reverse much of the damage that has been done.

Kabila announced in August 2018 that he will no longer seek reelection and will relinquish his presidency at the close of his term. This opens the door for a leader whose intentions lie not in personal gain, but rather in rebuilding the DRC’s economy, providing health care, access to basic resources to the people and restoring the country to a position of growth and stability.

– Rob Lee
Photo: Pixabay

Ending Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Despite the Second Congo War officially ending in 2003, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains a nexus of civil unrest. The country’s decades-long cycle of armed conflict has fuelled impunity, lawlessness, brutality and an epidemic of sexual violence against Congolese women. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 48 women in the DRC are raped every hour. In a 2013 nationwide survey of 18,000 households, more than 57 percent of women reported experiencing physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Personal Testimonies

These numbers are alarming, especially when paired with personal testimonies of trauma. One young woman, Sandra, recounts being infected with HIV after her neighbor raped her at the age of 16. Jeanne, another survivor, was tied to a tree and gang-raped for several weeks. She had surgery to repair the damage, then returned home only to be raped again.

Their experiences are not unusual within the country’s current climate. Sexual violence against Congolese women is, in the words of activist Eve Ensler, “the cheapest and most effective way to instill fear in and humiliate a community. It doesn’t even cost a bullet.”

The Fight Against Sexual Violence

Individuals like Ensler are working to combat this systemic violation. Ensler is the founder of City of Joy, a leadership program for survivors of rape. Geared towards survivors that have healed physically, City of Joy supports 90 women aged 18 to 30 at a time, giving them an interim place to emotionally heal, gain valuable life skills and build a community of empowerment among themselves. Since opening its doors in 2011, City of Joy has served and celebrated more than one thousand women survivors in the DRC.

For those in need of physical treatment, pioneering gynecologist Denis Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital. The hospital specializes in complex gynecological injuries, with 60 percent of its collective 85,000 patients coming from a background of sexual violence. In addition to repairing physical trauma, Panzi Hospital offers counseling, reintegration and the accruement of legal evidence in the hope that, one day, the evidence can be presented to secure justice for its victims.

Organizations Stepping in to Help

There are many other beacons that exist to empower, mend and prevent further sexual violence against Congolese women. The World Bank recently committed $100 million to The Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Project. The project’s intent is to promote social parity while directly aiding 400,000 women and girls over the next four years. In 2017, United Nations agencies provided medical assistance to approximately 5,200 survivors of sexual violence and referred hundreds more to MONUSCO-supported legal clinics. Hope and Health Vision strives to provide a safe environment for women and children traumatized by civil conflict. Women for Women International offers a year-long training program for women, as well as engagement programmes for male allies.

Something is slowly being dug to the root, reaffixed. Mukwege says, “Africa’s future begins when girls know that they are equal to boys. We share the same humanity and we cannot continue to allow economic wars to be fought on women’s bodies.”

Yumi Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Human trafficking is both a human rights and an economic concern. The following is a discussion on the progress being made in eliminating human trafficking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Human trafficking accounts for a large portion of the economic flow in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; unfortunately, little is being done to combat this occurrence by the Congolese government. This practice has thus continued to be a common human rights violation in the country and is perpetuated by a handful of linked issues such as corrupt government, poor economic climate and low infrastructure. 

Prevalence of Human Trafficking and Existing Laws

Currently, no laws exist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to prevent human trafficking.

Further, human trafficking rings are often under the control of gangs and various militant groups that the Congolese government has little power to challenge. This makes the country a breeding ground for human trade and other human rights violations.

Current Aid and Interventions

Despite the Congolese government’s inefficiency in eliminating human trafficking in the DRC, several different aid groups have begun working on behalf of the cause. Among these groups are the United Nations and USAID.

Unfortunately, Joseph Kabila, the current president of the Congolese nation, is refusing aid, insisting that it is not needed despite the millions of displaced people unable to regularly access food. Kabila has threatened outside parties that offer assistance — including Sweden and the Netherlands — and made it hard for the victims of and those vulnerable to human trafficking to receive the intervention that they need.

Earlier this year, the humanitarian assistance needed in the DRC was estimated at $1.7 billion, which is four times the amount of aid that was offered last year. Due to increased hostility from President Kabila, those raising aid for the nation will face large hurdles from the government if they continue working amidst Kabila’s threats.

Although the United Arab Emirates has been clear that they will not sponsor aid unapproved by Congolese officials, at this point no other aid source has withdrawn their pledge to support the rehabilitation of the DRC. The hope is that the aid to be received will be used to confront big-ticket issues in the nation, with human trafficking among the biggest concerns.  

Moving Forward in Eliminating Human Trafficking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

While there are many obstacles that the Democratic Republic of the Congo faces along with anyone who dares to support its victims, there is a clear opportunity for the world to be a force for good.

There is power in numbers, and the greater support citizens of the nation receive, the greater the likelihood the nation will push through to the other side of its very real and serious struggles.

A great tool for U.S. citizens is writing to representatives about issues that are important, requesting changes. Many small voices can make a powerful impact.

– Alexandra Ferrigno
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Line Breakdown
Over three billion people live on less than $2.50 per day, showing that poverty remains a top global issue. Every country has a poverty line, which is the level of personal or family income below which one is considered poor by government standards. While there are a handful of countries with extreme poverty, there are others that have maintained the poverty line within their country.

Poverty Rates

According to the Huffington Post, factoring poverty rates is a mixture of art and science. When coming up with a country’s poverty line, the measurement of wealth and distribution has to coincide with the cost of living rates or price purchase parity adjustments. In other words, someone who may be perceived as poor in the United States can be considered wealthy in another country. The global quantification of extreme poverty is categorized differently than middle- and upper-income countries.

Countries with the Highest Poverty Line

  • The Dominican Republic of Congo: Despite the most recent decrease in DRC’s poverty rate, 71 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2012, the DRC remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The United Nations has estimated that 2.3 million people living in the DRC are poor and living in refugee camps. Due to the detrimental political corruption, the people of DRC continue to suffer for minimal necessities. The nutritional statistics of DRC are extremely low and health conditions are severe. Stunting, wasting, immunization coverage, drinking water conditions and diseases are just a few examples of matters that need to be taken seriously to solve these conditions.
  • The Central African Republic: As of 2008, the poverty rate for the Central African Republic stood at 66.3 percent and not much has changed. Although this is a healthy decrease from 84.3 percent in 1992, a majority of the countries’ population lives on less than $1.90 per day. To many, the Central African Republic may appear to be the land of diamonds, but it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world. With a low population count of five million people, most of them are living without food, sanitation and decent housing. Every year, the Central African Republic only brings in $750. The Central African Republic’s issues reside from civil conflict, diseases and lack of infrastructure for schools and jobs. With minimal annual income, jobs are scarce and in high demand.

Countries with the Lowest Poverty Line

  • Finland: With a low poverty rate of 5.5 percent, Finland has one of the lowest poverty lines in decades, although the risk of poverty for many residing in Finland is the highest it’s ever been. There’s a secret to Finland’s success story: employment, education and parenting take priority. In addition, Finland is committed to improving education and healthcare. It is generous with welfare and possesses a low infant mortality rate, good school test scores and an extremely low poverty rate. Finland is considered the second happiest country on earth, falling second to the United States.
  • The Czech Republic: About 9.7 percent of the Czech Republic’s population live below the poverty line. Of all the European Union member states, Czech has the lowest amount of people threatened by poverty. In comparison to the average rate of 17 percent for the eurozone, Czech is doing pretty well for itself. Czech’s high-income economy is primarily based on the revenue it receives from its auto industry. This still remains its largest single industry, accounting for 24 percent of Czech’s product manufacturing. Czech’s wealth is due to its successful trading system.

Poverty lines will continue to be a global issue until countries ally to reduce the gap in socioeconomic status. Without the rich, there would be no poor. Even within impoverished areas of the world, there are different levels of poverty and what one can afford. Unity and prioritizing citizen’s needs is a necessity to promote change in poverty lines.

 – Kayla Sellers 

Photo: Flickr

Recent Genocides
Genocide has been a part of the human experience for as long as humans have been around. As the world looks forward to solving issues like poverty and disease, recent genocides still threaten the developing world.

The “Third World War” in the Democratic Republic of Congo

One of the most recent genocides happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Genocide Watch reports that genocide continues to take place. Moreover, a report by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights states there has been evidence of recent genocides in the DRC as early as 1993.

Much of the recent genocide is involves two factions: the Raia Mutomboki militia, which seeks to kill or expel anyone speaking Rwandan or Congolese, and the rival Hutu militia called the FDLR, which attacks anyone associated with the Raia Mutomboki. Both sides have slaughtered civilians and combatants along ethnic grounds in hopes of annihilating their rival ethnic groups from the greater Congo area.

Considered the bloodiest conflict since World War II, reports estimate that almost six million people have died since fighting started in 1996. Poverty, famine, disease and sexual violence continue to devastate the DRC. In 2010, a U.N. representative called the DRC the rape capital of the world. Additionally, civil unrest stemming from the postponement of the 2016 presidential elections displaced approximately 3.9 million people by the end of 2017.

Humanitarian organizations have provided aid, but the problems within the DRC are far from fixed. The International Rescue Committee expects to reach 8.4 million Congolese by 2020, focusing on improving the health and safety of women, children and the vulnerable.

The Darfur Genocide: First Genocide of the 21st Century

Darfur is a region in Western Sudan with a population of around seven million people. Since 2003, the Sudanese government-backed militia called the Janjaweed have laid waste to many villages in Darfur. The violence and recent genocide began as a series of reprisals for a 2003 attack on a Sudanese Air Force Base, and it was claimed that the residents of Darfur were responsible for the attack. The Janjaweed target civilians, committing mass murder and rape and looting economic resources. The U.N. estimates 4.7 million people have been affected by the fighting since 2004–half of them children. A 2016 report indicated that more than 600,000 people have died directly or indirectly because of the conflict.

Humanitarian access has been historically restricted and inhibited by the Sudanese government. The Sudanese government has been accused of intimidating and arresting aid workers. For example, in May 2005, two aid workers from Médecins sans Frontières were arrested at gunpoint under suspicion of “publishing false information” after a report by the organization was released on rape in Darfur.

The Yazidi Genocide

Most of the world’s Yazidi’s live in the Sinjar province of northern Iraq and have practiced their distinct traditions for thousands of years. However, the Yazidis are a religious and ethnic minority publicly reviled by ISIS. As a result, in August 2014, ISIS launched a genocide on the Yazidi communities of Sinjar. The ISIS fighters surged through the region, finding little military resistance. The local Peshmerga, a Kurdish security force, quickly abandoned their checkpoints and the Yazidi communities who depended on them for defense. The defenseless Yazidi villages offered little in the way of a military objective, so ISIS entered the region with one goal: the total extermination and subjugation of the Yazidi population. According to U.N. reports, Yazidi girls and women, as young as nine years old, were sold into sex slavery and trafficked across the Syrian border. Men and young boys were separated from their families–the men executed and the boys forced into ISIS training camps. Hundreds were summarily executed upon capture. All evidence points to an intentional and highly organized scheme by ISIS to end the Yazidi presence in Iraq, and potentially the world.

Access to the Sinjar region has been difficult for both humanitarian organizations and displaced Yazidis trying to return to their homeland. However, the Yazidis are not alone. Nadia’s Initiative, an advocacy organization founded by Nadia Murad, a 24-year-old Yazidi woman and survivor of the genocide, has gathered support for the Yazidi people by releasing a recent report on the current status of Sinjar. It has generated a unified humanitarian effort through the Sinjar Action Fund and has partnered with the French government to de-mine the explosives left behind by ISIS fighters in the region.

In the horrific wake of recent genocides, it can be easy to lose hope that genocide will be eradicated. However, organizations like the Sinjar Action Fund and the International Rescue Committee have and continue to work to produce a world without genocide. As solutions are being presented, it is up to everyone to implement them.

– Peter Buffo

Photo: Flickr