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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

Ebola Prevention in Rwanda

In August 2018, the World Health Organization confirmed an Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, the Rwandan government has taken a proactive stance with a rigorous system to promote Ebola prevention in Rwanda. So far, the system has been successful. Despite constant traffic across the borders between the DRC and Rwanda, there have been no cases of Ebola in Rwanda.

Threat of Transmission from the DRC

Since the outbreak of Ebola in the DRC, there have been more than 2,600 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,800 deaths. According to the WHO, the DRC Ebola outbreak is one of the worst outbreaks in history, second only to the 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic. The WHO recently designated the outbreak as a global health emergency. With approximately 12 cases of Ebola arising every day in the DRC, the threat of transmission to other countries is still high, especially Rwanda. Since the Ebola threat is just across their border, Rwanda’s government has been proactive in preventing it.

Strategies for Ebola Prevention in Rwanda

The Rwandan National EVD Preparedness Plan is the basis of Ebola prevention, with key strategies, including early detection and response training, Ebola education, vaccinating health workers, outfitting health facilities, and carrying out simulation drills.

Early detection and response training help prepare medical staff, from Red Cross volunteers to health care centers. Rwanda’s efforts to educate its citizens, also contribute to early detection and response training. Through radio, television, billboards and community meeting, the public has learned the signs and symptoms of Ebola, so citizens are better prepared.

Vaccinating health workers in high-risk areas is also critical to controlling transmission, should health workers encounter a patient with Ebola. Approximately 3,000 health workers have received vaccinations so far. Beyond health care officials, Rwanda set up an Ebola treatment center and 23 isolation units. These measures, paired with simulation exercises to maximize response efficiency, go beyond proactive, by preparing for potential Ebola transmission.

In addition to all these measures, health officials check for Ebola symptoms at points of entry to Rwanda. Officials check travelers’ temperatures and make them wash their hands, while Ebola awareness messages play in the background. So far, these measures have kept Ebola out of Rwanda. Even so, the threat of Ebola spreading to Rwanda remains critical.

Increasing Threat of Ebola Transmission

In early August 2019, Rwanda briefly closed its borders, after the third confirmed Ebola death in the Congolese border city of Goma. According to a joint statement from the WHO and the United Nations, the latest case of Ebola in the highly populated, border city of Goma increases the risk of the virus spreading to other countries.

The government closed the border to cut down on traffic between the two countries, due to concerns of transmission between Goma and the Rwandan city of Gisenyi. Though Rwandan officials shortly reopened the border in response to international criticism, they have also increased cross-border monitoring between the two countries.

Moving Forward

As WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted, “Rwanda has made a significant investment in Ebola preparedness.” These investments and prevention strategies have stopped the spread of Ebola into Rwanda thus far. However, the threat of Ebola transmission will remain significant, until the outbreak is controlled in the DRC. Therefore, it is crucial that the Rwandan government, as well as health organizations worldwide, keep encouraging Ebola prevention in Rwanda.

– Morgan Harden
Photo: Flickr

 Zambia Refugees
Zambia has been welcoming refugees for more than 50 years and is currently hosting over 54,000 refugees. The majority come from Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. Here are 10 facts about Zambia refugees:

    1.  Many Angolan refugees have been living, working, and raising families in Zambia for over 40 years. Historically, the Zambian government has tried to repatriate refugees to their country of origin, but those that have lived in Zambia for a long period of time have little desire to leave.
    2.  In 2014 the Zambian Government, UNHCR and the U.N. Refugee Agency launched a three-year local integration strategy. The Strategic Framework for the Local Integration of Former Refugees in Zambia is to benefit people who want to remain in Zambia.
    3. The Strategic Framework for the Local Integration of Former Refugees in Zambia provides refugees with long-term residence permits, country-of-origin identity documents, and passports. Residents will live in one of two settlements — Meheba in North-Western and Mayukwayukwa — chosen for this purpose. They will have access to education, health services, and demarcated land.
    4. In 2016, The World Bank approved a $20 million International Development Association credit to help implement the local integration program.
    5. A study conducted by the Institute of Economic and Social Research reveals that refugees contribute to Zambia’s economy by farming, running small businesses and employing Zambians.
    6. Refugees each bring their own set of skills to Zambia, including how to run a small business, rice and cassava farming, and making clay roofing tiles.
    7. Over 24,000 refugees will be given residency permits. Also, they may apply for citizenship after living in Zambia for five or 10 years (the length of time varies depending on if the displaced person was born in Zambia or in a country outside Zambia).
    8. The Strategic Framework for the Local Integration of Former Refugees in Zambia will provide families with five hectares of land, homes, and farming inputs and tools.
    9.  Refugee rights are protected by the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Among those rights is the right to freedom of movement and residence in whichever country they choose to live, as long as they abide by the laws in that country.
    10. Beginning in 2015, UNHCR will provide cash-based assistance to refugees instead of food. UNHCR will also help governments to provide access to social services.

 

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr

Drinking Water
Despite having the largest freshwater resources in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has long faced significant challenges in maintaining and furnishing potable drinking water to its citizens. More than 50 million Congolese face the daily trial of acquiring clean water, due to issues ranging from inadequate infrastructure to poor sanitation.

According to a 2015 UNICEF and World Health Organization study, almost 700 million people worldwide did not have access to clean drinking water — most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Much of this water quality problem falls within the spectrum of sanitation. The DRC’s rate of urban expanse far outstrips its ability to furnish infrastructure that would deliver clean drinking water to those living in developing areas. In more rural communities, however, the opposite is true — water-furnishing infrastructure is almost non-existent, which puts these Congolese at a higher risk of consuming contaminated drinking water.

Many living in these areas use water from local streams and rivers, unaware that the same water source has been contaminated upstream with chemicals, bacteria and parasites. The people of the DRC share the experience of 2.4 billion people worldwide who do not have access to sanitary toilets.

However, many communities have addressed the water quality problem head-on, developing resourceful solutions to provide this necessity. Hand-drilled wells, for instance, are a much cheaper (although laborious) method of accessing fresh water in rural Congolese villages. UNICEF, via its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program (WASH), has been working tirelessly with the Congolese government to spread these solutions. They aspire to provide clean water to 4 million people by the end of 2017.

Large-scale efforts have positively impacted the water quality in the DRC. The U.N.’s Environment Program (UNEP) helped to complete a community-led catchment management project on the Lukaya River basin in 2016. These projects work with the natural processes of the local ecosystem, providing drinking water to 400,000 people living in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.

Despite a history of instability and conflict, the people of the DRC have made great strides in improving their water quality. Organizations such as UNICEF and UNEP bring great support to this cause, and if global interest continues, general health and welfare in these areas will drastically improve as well.

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr

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In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—a country currently at the bottom of the Human Development Index—the sentencing of Germain Katanga at the International Criminal Court (ICC) this past week has brought mixed reactions.

The Court convicted the former commander of the Forces de Résistance for his role in the February 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro in North-Eastern DRC that resulted in the deaths of over 200 people.

Conflict has consumed this area of the DRC, and more specifically the Ituri region, for years. The power struggle stems from the drive to control the local natural resources, namely gold. Approximately 130,000-150,000 persons in Ituri alone mine gold, often working over 12 hours a day.

High gold taxes and exploitation of small-scale miners prevents many from achieving a decent standard of living. This, in partnership with low agricultural production, produces hunger throughout the population.

Of the two convictions the ICC has realized since its inception, both defendants committed their crimes in Ituri. Critics of the Court point to the prevalence of indicted African leaders as an example of political influence. The failure to enforce their indictments, as in the case of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, has weakened the Court’s credibility.

Signatory states to the ICC’s Rome Statute can also refer certain cases to the Office of the Prosecutor, which means governments may use the Court as a weapon against political opponents rather than a source of justice. Critics have also questioned the influence of the West on the Court, considering 60 percent of ICC funding comes from the European Union.

The ICC appears to be arriving at a crossroads between political showcase and legitimate enforcer of the law. Were the Court to gain its intended footing on the international stage, it would have the opportunity to affect change in the DRC. Deterrence aside, criminal trials allow victims to finally describe their experiences, which can help in the process of national reconciliation.

Implementing law promotes the stability that could do little to harm an economy destroyed by years of warfare. Each trial brings media coverage that can be harnessed to advocate for aid to the DRC. Regardless, the relationship between the ICC and the DRC will be interesting to watch in the coming years.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Brookings, European Commission, International Policy Digest, IRIN, La Presse, World Bank

The Plight of Artisanal Miners in the DRC
It is no secret that many nations have headed to Africa in search of economic opportunity. In fact, a significant portion of trading relationships with Africa centers on mineral deposits, many of which are needed to produce high-tech products such as tablets and smartphones. However despite the lucrative opportunities the mining trade presents to outsiders, a significant portion of mineral extraction is done by poor locals who have little access to proper equipment. These individuals are known as artisanal miners.

The practice dates back thousands of years when many African kingdoms used artisanal miners to extract minerals for building materials and wealth. Today, still without access to technology, these miners operate with hand-held tools, no safety equipment and within shafts lacking any type of ventilation system.

So why does one engage in these dangerous activities? Kevin D’Souza, a mining engineer, discusses in his piece, “Artisanal and Small Scale Mining in Africa: A Reality Check,” that many turn to mining in the dry season when farming is less prevalent. This allows individuals to supplement their income. Also, many turn to the practice as a last resort since they live in rural areas with few employment opportunities outside of the mining sector.

Amnesty International has recently conducted a study of the mining industry within the DRC, specifically, the Katanga region. What they found was a serious lack of oversight by the government in terms of enforcing mining laws on the books as well as UN accords ensuring the safety of workers.

One of the cases focused by the Amnesty International report is that of the Tilwezembe mine operated by Misa Mining. The interviews outlined in the report shed light on serious human rights violations at the mine and surrounding area. For instance, accidents resulting in serious injury or death occur frequently at the site. Many miners are injured by landslides, falling debris within the mine, and asphyxiation. Child labor has also been known to be used at the mining site.

Furthermore, many violations have been perpetrated by the private security companies that oversee the mining activities. Unlike in the past, miners are prevented from taking the minerals they extracted off the mining site once Misa Mining took over. If miners are caught taking minerals offsite they face serious punishment by the guards which include steep fines and the possibility of being banned from the site. The guards also have the right to imprison miners for no more than the legally stated 48 hours. However, violations frequently occur with many stating that individuals are held for several days within the onsite prisons.

The presence of artisanal mining as the only means for some to make money and a government unwilling to enforce international human rights laws leaves little hope for its practitioners. However, D’Souza outlines some actions that can possibly alleviate the suffering. For example, he recommends legalizing the practice due to the fact that over 75% of miners operate outside the law. This would help create formal standards for artisanal mining as well as open the doors to introducing health and safety regulations that could vastly improve the miners’ situation.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: Amnesty International, UN

conflicts_in_congo
Thousands of refugees flee from the DR Congo to Uganda after Congolese Government forces (FARDC) and the M23 Islamic rebellion movement, collide in dispute. More than 100 armed men wearing women’s clothing entered the Democratic Republic of the Congo from Rwanda, launching an attack close to the provincial capital of Goma.

In addition to this conflict, elsewhere fighting has displaced thousands more after the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group, launched a surprise attack on the Congolese town of Kamango. Authorities report that Congolese troops have retaken the town, but they worry that a mass movement of people will allow rebels to further infiltrate nearby areas and worsen the conflict.

According to aid agencies, an estimate 66,000 refugees poured into Uganda following these attacks. Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UNHCR, said that “people literally fled for their lives,” bringing nothing with them as they tried to reach the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

Refugees fleeing from Kamango and nearby areas entered Uganda through the district of Bundibugyo, where they had to take shelter under shop verandas or on school grounds. The Red Cross estimates that 2,000 of the refugees are pregnant women, and at least five of them gave birth while on the run.

The agency is working with Ugandan police to transport hundreds of people from six reception centers to a transit camp where they can register and receive necessary services. Many of the refugees are in immediate need of emergency aid in the form of food, shelter or medicine. The facility is already being overburdened as the Red Cross works to accommodate increasing numbers of Congolese citizens.

International assistance remains of the utmost importance as fighting rages on between government forces and ADF rebels in Kamango and the Congolese army and M23 rebels in Goma. In addition to the UNHCR and the Red Cross, other agencies working to relieve the humanitarian crisis include the World Food Programme, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam and the Lutheran World Foundation.

– Katie Bandera

Sources: UN, The Guardian, VOA News
Photo: Africana Connections

Refugees_in_central_Africa_and_insurgency
In Central Africa and the Great Lakes region, countries with already large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are burdened with refugee influx from neighboring conflicts. Many of the IDPs and refugees in Central Africa are served by U.N. camps across the region. Others are housed by local populations or public buildings. With recent outbreaks of violence humanitarian services have become unavailable in  regions.

In April, a UNHCR spokesman gave the number of Central African Republic (CAR) refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at 30,000. Many of these were forced to flee the violence in the capital Bangui. UNHCR also estimated that the number of IDPs in CAR reached 173,000. While this situation is grim the added strain on refugee camps and humanitarian services is exacerbated by the refugees crossing into CAR. Driven by conflict in the Western Darfur region and recent fighting in the DRC capital of Goma, Sudanese and Congolese refugees are seeking care in CAR. In April UNHCR estimated 21,000 refugees from the DRC and Sudan have sought refuge in CAR.

Despite peace talks currently taking place between the DRC government and the M23 rebel forces, the environment in the DRC remains uncertain and rife with tension. Rebel troops briefly held the capital, Goma, in November 2012 but lost control again to the government after a short period. The current standoff between the two sides has boosted the potential for forced recruitment in the countryside. Citizens fleeing the conflict and young men trying to avoid forcible recruitment spill into neighboring countries. In the last six months of 2012 UNHCR estimates that 60,000 Congolese refugees fled to Uganda and Rwanda. Many more were internally displaced.

Recent violence in the DRC has led the U.N. to deploy troops with one of its strongest mandates yet: counter insurgency operations. Despite a 20,000 U.N. peace force deployed in the region the rebel forces took and held Goma for 10 days last November, committing many atrocities including mass rape. The new U.N. deployment, consisting of troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi is intended to prevent new atrocities. The effectiveness of this newest deployment is uncertain. Troops will be engaging in joint operations, requiring coordination in an unfamiliar setting and already logistics and bureaucracy have delayed troop deployment.

Other military forces also have a presence in CAR. South Africa deployed 200 soldiers in January this year with the potential to deploy an additional 200. These forces will assist in training the CAR army and are not intended to engage directly with rebel forces. Ugandan soldiers with U.S. Special Forces support are also deployed in CAR. The Economic Community of Central Africa has authorized forces to deploy in the country as well. And France recently boosted their troop presence in CAR from 250 to 600.

The global and regional community recognizes the need for military intervention in the region demonstrated by the troop deployments. Whether this leads to a cessation in violence or even a lasting peace is uncertain.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: IRIN, The Economist, UNHCR
Photos: IRIN

refugee populations
An estimated 15.2 million people in the world are refugees, people forced to leave their home countries because of persecution, war, or other kinds of violence. That’s the equivalent of the populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco combined.

Who are these people? Where do they come from? And where do they currently reside? Data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees give us the following snapshot of these populations: of the 15.2 million refugees, 46% are under 18, and 48% are female. Most of these people have been forced to move to developing nations, which host an estimated 80% of the world’s refugee population.

The country with the largest refugee population in the world is Pakistan, which hosts an estimated 1.7 million refugees. Many of these refugees are from neighboring Afghanistan, the country that produces the greatest number of refugees, an estimated 2.7 million people. To place these numbers in a global context, below is a list of the world’s top 5 largest refugee populations by the nation of origin.

Largest Refugee Populations

1. Afghanistan –  2.7 million refugees worldwide

2. Iraq – 1.7 million

3. Somalia –  770,000

4. Democratic Republic of Congo – 477,000

5. Myanmar – 415,000

 

Refugees from these and other countries are forced to move across the globe, many of them ending up in Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Germany, and Jordan, the top 5 on the list of host countries. Jordan, Syria, Congo, Chad, and Montenegro are the countries with the highest proportion of refugees per 1,000 people. The United States currently hosts an estimated 265,000 refugees.

Although numbers like these are sometimes hard to grasp, compiling this kind of data is vital for refugee aid organizations like UNHCR, which rely on data to plan ways to help the people and countries involved. UNHCR publishes an annual Global Trends Report on refugee populations. The next such report is due in June 2013.

– Délice Williams

Sources: UNHCR, The Guardian, MSN Causes
Photo: Guardian

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In the United States, the average person will live to be 78 years old. In that time, they’ll likely get married, have children of their own, have a long career and then spend roughly 13 years in retirement. For most of us, this seems like the natural progression of life. In many places around the world however, many people won’t live to see the day they become grandparents and the idea of retirement is just a pie in the sky.

What does low life expectancy tell us?

The World Bank defines life expectancy at birth as the number of years a newborn can be expected to live, assuming no change in the living conditions of the country present at birth. When life expectancy in a country is low, it indicates a lack in some of the basic necessities required to live a long, healthy life.

This often includes things such as clean drinking water, nutritious food, hygienic living conditions and adequate health care. But in some cases, it is far more complicated than that. AIDS related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa for example, have been driving down average life expectancy for decades. Conflict, war and genocide also contribute to a shorter average life span.

The following is a list of 10 countries with the lowest life expectancy numbers on the planet, the 10 worst places to be born. For comparison, life expectancy in the United States was 48 in the year 1900.

10. Mozambique

Life expectancy: 50 years

9. Chad

Life expectancy: 50 years

8. Zambia

Life expectancy: 49 years

7. Afghanistan

Life expectancy: 49 years

6. Swaziland

Life expectancy: 49 years

 5. The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Life expectancy: 48 years

 4. Central African Republic

Life expectancy: 48 years

3. Guinea-Bissau

Life expectancy: 48 years

 2. Lesotho

Life expectancy: 48 years

 1. Sierra Leone

Life expectancy: 48 years

These figures express the importance of global health initiatives undertaken by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other health actors on the world stage. Many government health ministries and non-governmental health organizations are also stepping up to meet these challenges. These efforts are imperative for global development and their continued persistence can eventually lead to long and healthy lives for people in these countries.

– Erin N. Ponsonby

Sources:World Bank, Washington Post, Berkeley
Photo:Alexia Foundation