Economic Reforms Are Not Sufficient To Address The Humanitarian Crisis In DRC

In the past few decades, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) excelled among countries in sub-Saharan Africa for its stunning economic performance. According to the World Bank, from 2005 onwards, a robust export-based economy, along with the evolution of both domestic and the international public investment have permitted a GDP growth rate of 7.7.% and poverty reduction of 8%.

Nonetheless, these exceptional economic and financial improvements do not mask the reality of a country which still faces several important struggles linked to ethnic violence, underdevelopment and governmental abuse.

In the past 3 years, violence has consistently intensified, especially in the areas of Kasai and Tanganyika. According to FAO and WFP, around 7.7. million people in DRC require assistance for facing acute hunger; a 30% increase over the last year in DRC. Nearly half of the country’s children under 5 are stunted; 3 million of them suffer from acute malnutrition and 47% suffer from anemia.

Since 2010 the World Bank (WB) collaborated with the DRC government to implement economic reforms which include increased transparency measures through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Furthermore, reforms have been proposed to reduce hunger in the DCR by increasing its capacity to effectively disperse the most basic of provisional goods: water and food.

Although both financial and distributive reforms have permitted the country to rise among its neighbours in terms of numeric results in both economic performance and poverty reduction; not surprisingly, they have not been enough to front a legacy of political upheaval, economic stagnation and localized conflict, which have been constant factors in the history of the country since its independence in the 1960s.

It is not a secret that hunger is on the rise due to escalated and prolonged conflict and displacement in central and eastern DRC. It is very unlikely that the acute issue of malnutrition will be resolved until the systemic failures of Congolese security are addressed.

More specifically, since September 2016, three Kasai provinces have been shattered by the Kamwina Nsapu militia’s rebellion against the government in Kinshasa. According to the Congolese Catholic Church, which relies on figures provided by its parishes, the conflict has caused at least 3,383 deaths since October.

Whereas violence is the result of clashes between the army and a rebel group; civilians have also been caught up in several occasions. Recently, the UN has reported on the discovery of more than 20 mass graves but has put the death toll, so far, at about 400.

In conflict-ridden areas such as these, farmers have seen their villages and fields pillaged and have not been able to plant for the last two seasons. There is not only a lack of a local market, but army-worm infestations have destroyed crops in over a quarter of the country’s vast territories. Consequently, the rural community remains the most affected as farmers, mostly women and children, are not able to sustain themselves.

FAO and WFP call for an urgent increase in the provision of lifesaving food and specialized nutrition assistance to combat malnutrition as well as seeds and tools so that farmers can plant again and regain their livelihoods. In conflict-hit areas of Kasaï and Tanganyika regions, FAO is providing vegetable seeds and hand tools to rapidly boost food production and increase the availability of nutritious foods among displaced and hosting communities. In 2017, FAO is seeking to assist 2.1 million people in DRC to tackle hunger, restore food production, and build more resilient livelihoods.

Arguably, a complicated crisis such as the one in DCR, which includes elements of ethnic violence, food insecurity and social dislocation, can only be addressed with a combined effort by governmental authorities and non-governmental agencies to mitigate violence and empower the Congolese population with sustainable livelihoods. With no doubt, the road to stability is still long and difficult.

Benedetta Zocchi