Quick facts on the humanitarian crisis in DRC

DR Congo

Last updated: September 13, 2018

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The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country rich in resources, yet fraught with conflict and violence. The country is currently experiencing the largest displacement crisis in Africa.

Many of its people have not seen peace in more than 20 years.

Read on to learn more about the crisis in DRC and find out how we’re helping families survive — and build stronger futures.

What is the DRC crisis?

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is host to one of the world’s most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises, centered particularly in the east of the country. More than 2.1 million people were forced to flee their homes in 2017 alone — equivalent to an average of 50 families fleeing every hour, every day.

Weak governance, a lack of infrastructure and stunted economy, coupled with two decades of conflict, have led to one of the most ignored and forgotten crises in the world. That’s why we’re there to help.

What is the current conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

There are currently more than 100 different armed groups vying for territory and control in eastern DRC. This conflict is causing massive displacement and urgent humanitarian needs as families flee their homes for safety.

The armed conflict and insecurity has displaced 4.5 million people within the country. 13.1 million people need humanitarian assistance—5.6 million more than in 2017. Over the last year with intensified fighting, the humanitarian situation has dramatically worsened.

What is the Kivu conflict?

The conflict in North and South Kivu began in 1996 in eastern Congo in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. The conflict involves numerous armed actors, including the DRC Military, foreign rebel groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and Allied Defence Forces of Uganda and more than 100 local armed groups. Due to this ongoing fighting, DRC is currently home to the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world, consisting of 21,000 people.

As part of Mercy Corps’ programming in eastern DRC, we are working to support stronger local governance and conflict resolution mechanisms, in order to build greater social cohesion at the grassroots level.

Is there still war in DRC?

Not technically. But there is still ongoing conflict, insecurity and a lack of effective governance. There are now more than 100 armed groups vying for territory and control in eastern DRC. The current president, Joseph Kabila, has been in position since 2001 following the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila. Elections were due to be held in December 2016, but have been delayed to December 2018. In its 58 years of independence from Belgium, the DRC has never had a peaceful political transition.

How densely populated is the Democratic Republic of Congo?

DRC is the size of western Europe and the second largest country in Africa. Its population of 80 million people is spread throughout the country, with 40% of people living in urban areas. Cities in eastern Congo, like Goma and Bukavu, have been experiencing an influx of people fleeing violence from the more rural areas. People are seeking safety and security, and new opportunities to earn an income, as the conflict has forced many of them off their land.

This escalating displacement, coupled with resource mismanagement, is putting increasing pressure on the cities’ services. To respond to these needs, we’ve developed an integrated water initiative to improve access to water for the most vulnerable citizens of Goma and Bukavu. It also aims to provide equitable access to water for all.

How wealthy is the Democratic Republic of Congo?

The DRC has vast human and natural resources, which could, arguably, make it one of the richest countries in the world. This Central African country is home to the world’s largest reserves of coltan, used in mobile phones and electric cars, as well as significant quantities of the world’s cobalt and copper, as well and diamonds, gold and many other minerals.

Yet, because of the ongoing conflict, poor governance and a lack of infrastructure, the Congolese people are not benefiting from this immense wealth. In fact, in 2019, DRC will become the country with the second highest number of people living below the poverty line.

Who is affected by the conflict in DRC?

In the conflict-ridden eastern part of the country, women and children are often most affected by the conflict, as is the case with many crises. More than 2 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. One in 10 women and girls experienced sexual violence in 2016. In some cases, women and their children have no choice but to flee the violence and hunger. Women often leave their homes with very little but their children and the clothes they were wearing. Men too are frightened of being killed or forced to join armed groups.

When families are forced to flee their homes because of violence, Mercy Corps’ emergency response teams go out to help them and provide cash support so they can meet their basic needs and improve water sources and sanitation so that they don’t become ill.

Is there Ebola in DRC?

Yes. Ebola is endemic to DRC and the country is currently battling its tenth Ebola outbreak, which has already killed 106 people. This particular outbreak is happening in the conflict-affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, making it more difficult and dangerous to access affected people and areas. We are working to help communities near the epicenter of the epidemic to prevent the spread of the disease.

"It’s becoming harder to help prevent Ebola because of increasing insecurity,” says Whitney Elmer, DRC Deputy Country Director for Mercy Corps. “We are also worried that the elections later this year may lead to more violence and make an already unstable situation worse. We’re also seeing increasing community distrust around Ebola efforts in the areas where we’re working,” she adds. “If health and aid workers can’t safely access at-risk communities, we can’t prevent the spread of the virus.”

A previous Ebola outbreak in 2018 affected 54 people and resulted in 33 deaths.

What is Mercy Corps doing to help the crisis in DRC?

Mercy Corps is currently working in DRC to help families in need survive and help communities recover and build back stronger. Last year alone, 1.2 million people benefitted from our work in DRC. It's important that we meet the most critical urgent needs, while also giving the people of DRC a foundation on which they can build a better future.

Our work in DRC includes:

  • Providing lifesaving emergency assistance, include cash aid, to the most vulnerable families suffering in the current crisis.
  • Helping large communities access clean and safe water, as well as improving sanitation practices and hygiene information.
  • Offering financial education and small loans to women and young people to foster economic opportunity.
  • Helping farmers grow more food and increase their incomes through education, training and crop diversification.

To help stop the spread of Ebola, emergency teams are distributing hygiene kits and hand-washing stations for health facilities in Musienene, Lubero, Beni and Butembo in North Kivu. The organization is also repairing water points and latrines as well as conducting health and hygiene education in health facilities, schools and other public spaces.

The organization is preparing to significantly scale up its Ebola response in the coming weeks, doubling the number of emergency response teams and expanding beyond North Kivu to Ituri province. The World Health Organization recently warned that the risk of the virus spreading at the national and regional level is very high.

You can help us meet the urgent needs of Congolese families who are displaced by ongoing fighting, as well as support our work to address the root causes of conflict and build longer-term food security and stability.

You can also use your voice to advocate for the international community to continue exerting pressure on the Congolese government so that it follows through on its promise to hold democratic elections in December 2018. Ultimately, the Congolese should hold the power to elect their leaders.