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Poverty in DRCThe Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a nation in Central Africa with a population of nearly 80 million people, the vast majority of whom live below the global poverty line. While statistics are hard to come by due to the nature of the DRC, there are estimates that nearly 80% of the country’s population lives in extreme poverty. The DRC consistently ranks as one of the world’s poorest, least stable and most underdeveloped countries.

How Has This Happened?

The DRC’s current poverty and instability are rooted in its decades-long history of violence, mismanagement and corruption. This dates back to the colonial era when millions died due to the abuses committed by the Belgian colonial administration. Immediately after declaring independence from Belgium, the so-called Congo Crisis caused more woes for the nation. Even their independence would not stop interference from Europe.

Mobutu Sese Seko took power after the Congo Crisis. He made the country into a one-party dictatorship with widespread corruption, funneling money out of the DRC, and into his own inner circle. Poverty in the DRC grew significantly worse as Seko and his inner circle grew wealthier. His regime was kept afloat by his cult of personality and Cold War foreign aid, both of which dried up in the 1990s. This “drying up” resulted in two devastating wars, both of which increased poverty in the DRC.

The Longevity of Poverty in the DRC

The country began reconstruction in the mid-2000s, in an effort to tackle the growing poverty following the Congo Wars. Despite poverty reductions in some areas of the country – particularly urban ones – recovery efforts did not reduce the overall poverty levels in the country between 2005 and 2012. Roughly two-thirds of the population of the DRC remained in poverty.

Today the DRC is one of the world’s poorest nations, with stunted economic growth and poor development. According to the World Bank, poverty in the DRC is so severe that roughly half of children grow up malnourished, with most lacking access to education. The longevity of this poverty has resulted in a scarcity of drinking water and limited access to proper sanitation. These conditions are present even more often in rural areas. The present COVID-19 epidemic has only made the situation in the DRC more hazardous, especially for those in poverty.

NGO Work in the DRC

While poverty in the DRC may seem insurmountable, there are hundreds of nonprofit agencies working to help in the region. The Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, or CARE, is a nonprofit NGO (non-governmental organization), dedicated to reducing poverty worldwide. They work alongside the Congolese government to provide aid.

With 12.8 million Congolese in need of urgent assistance, NGO work is more important than ever. In a country like the DRC, where poverty is so extreme, the humanitarian actions of CARE have made an important difference. This NGO has provided food security to thousands of people and assisted thousands of women to gain access to economic and health resources.

CARE is one of the hundreds of NGOs operating in the DRC that rely on donations to make a difference. Poverty in the DRC is too massive for any singular NGO to tackle. The combined efforts of multiple groups are needed. When poverty is so widespread, a widespread response is warranted.

Matthew Bado
Photo: Flickr

Droughts in Zimbabwe
Temperatures in southern Africa are notable for their fluctuation which commonly causes climate disasters. These disasters are particularly devastating to Zimbabwe’s rural population of approximately 16 million people and its substantial community of farmers. The country’s landscape has suffered significant damage from unprecedented weather, particularly droughts. Efforts to scale up governmental assistance have skyrocketed since January 2019, which has accounted for much of the rise in the price of basic commodities. Below is a brief history of droughts in Zimbabwe, the many implications that they cause and the solutions that different aid efforts have come to.

History of Drought

Zimbabwe has a long history of droughts, which have cumulatively caused an increase in poverty. On a regional scale, droughts often result in crop failure, loss of livestock and wildlife and power outages. A report from the World Food Programme indicates that as of 2019, an estimated 2.3 million people suffered from poverty as a result of the country’s worst hunger crisis thus far. Citizens turn to government officials to assist in food shortages, and while weather within the region is a determining factor in food production, it is mostly up to different organizations to provide varied forms of food security.

The country’s worst drought happened in 1992, which many consider the most destructive one Zimbabwe faced in the 20th century. Water shortages forced the shutdown of many industries and schools. Due to poor harvests that year, regions across southern Africa faced a short-term supply in their food reserves. Zimbabwe’s food shortages caused a ripple effect, with aggravated food production compromising foods like corn to countries like Mozambique, which relied on Zimbabwe’s exports. Due to low rainfall, communal area farmers did not have any suitable locations for food production.

Solutions and Aid

Shortly after the regional drought, the humanitarian agency Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) worked with Zimbabwe in order to build developmental programs that would increase accessibility to clean water and food. Programs that pilot cleaner VIP latrines, reinforce sexual and reproductive health and develop financial advocacy should increase household income, alleviate food insecurity and improve better access to markets.

In 2016, Zimbabwe declared a drought disaster as an estimated five million people faced food shortages. Shifts in weather patterns were a direct result of El Nino and La Nina, which refer to the periodic changes in sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

The International Rescue Committee works to alleviate many of the economic struggles in Zimbabwe. Started in 2008 after a devastating cholera outbreak, the organization provides support to those afflicted by natural disasters. It will extend its strategy action plan to 2020, continuing to transfer direct cash transfers to low-income households, provide vouchers to farmers, assist in getting more food for livestock, deliver medical and emergency supplies, drill deeper wells and rehabilitate water plants.

The World Food Programme also plans to assist up to two million people in 2020. By March 2020, predictions determine that nearly 59 percent of rural households—5.5 million people—will be food insecure or in poverty. An estimated $173 million is necessary to allocate support to these regions. Many are saying that the hunger crisis will peak during the first three months of 2020, which is elevating the level of urgency for funding.

Recent Drought

Zimbabwe experienced another drought in December 2019, which ignited the worst hunger crisis the country has faced in nearly a decade. It has entered a “Phase 3” food crisis, which is just two steps below large-scale famine. Predictions estimate that this will extend into 2020, as poor macro-economy and germination rates continually affect crop production. In November 2019, farmers received only 55 percent of normal rainfall. Livestock losses have reached 2.2 million people in urban areas and 5.5 million in rural ones. An emergency operation is underway by the World Food Programme in order to assist the 7.7 million people who plunged into hunger. Partnerships with UNICEF and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are leading to more international efforts for resilience programs.

Implications of Drought

These droughts carry many logistical implications, leading to economic struggles as inflation rates go up, farmers undergo crop failure and food supplies grow scarce. Clean water, medical supplies and nourishing foods have become inaccessible and render much of the population food insecure and poverty-stricken.

Droughts in Zimbabwe hold many implications for the country’s current hunger crisis. Varying aid efforts are slowly pushing the region to a progressive standpoint. The limitations of food security, when it comes to natural hazards like droughts, illustrate a need to offer more aid to regions stricken by climate disasters. Efforts to mobilize aid in southern African are essential to curbing economic decline and creating sustainable communities.

– Brittany Adames
Photo: Flickr

Despite achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger by 50 percent, Mali continues to struggle with extreme poverty. 50 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. There are nearly 59,000 internally displaced people and 143,500 Malian refugees located in neighboring countries. More than 600,000 Malians are in need of food assistance. A low-income nation, Mali was ranked 179 out of 188 countries on the 2015 Human Development Index. Though Mali’s economy is projected to grow by 5 percent over the 2017-2019 period and all economic sectors are projected to contribute to this growth, poverty persists. Why is Mali poor?

The answer to this question must consider the negative effects that drought and erratic rainfall have had on the country. Climate change has also led to higher temperatures, less rainfall and growing desertification in Mali, already one of the hottest countries in the world. 90 percent of the rural population works in the agricultural sector. Most farming is done on a subsistence basis; therefore, there is little to no reinvestment made in mechanization. Due to the adverse conditions, 25 percent of families are moderately to severely food insecure. During the 2016 lean season, approximately 315,000 Malians experienced severe food insecurity. One in three Malian children under the age of five is affected by stunting, a condition brought on by poor nutrition which affects both physical and cognitive development.

With an undiversified economy dependent on commodity exports, Mali is also extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in global commodity prices and the consequences of climate change. Though growth accelerated to 7 percent in 2014, its highest level in over a decade, and is expected to remain steady at 5 percent, Mali’s economic prospects are contingent on several important factors, including the stability of global prices for cotton and gold, Mali’s two biggest exports. Climatic shocks that negatively affect harvests could also cause a drop in economic growth and an increase in food insecurity.

Another contributing factor to why Mali is poor is the military coup that took place in the country in 2012. The coup resulted in the occupation of the northern regions of Mali by armed non-state groups. The signing of a peace agreement in 2015 between the Malian government and two rebel coalitions allowed for the implementation of a program of accelerated development in the northern regions. Due to fragile security and attacks on United Nations forces and the Malian army by terrorist groups in the northern regions, putting the program into action is difficult.

In addition to adverse weather conditions and conflict, poverty in Mali has also been perpetuated by the lack of access to education and career training. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the expected amount of schooling in Mali is 8.4 years, while the average amount of schooling is only 2.3 years. Educational programs such as those implemented by the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) have taken steps to make education more accessible to children in Mali, particularly those who have been out of school for a prolonged period of time.

“In Mali, 89 [percent] of out-of-school students who enrolled in a CARE accelerated learning program also completed it,” says CARE’s Senior Technical Advisor for Education, Katherine Begley. “100 [percent] of them successfully transitioned into formal schools.”

With the emphasis put on reaching those most affected by conflict and poverty, it is the belief of organizations like CARE that the cycle of poverty can be ended in Mali.

Amanda Quinn

Photo: Flickr