From the Field

DRC conflict: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the second-largest country in Africa, has been mired in conflict for decades. A country of paradoxes, it is a land rich in natural resources, but its people are among the poorest in the world.

While the DRC has vast amounts of oil, diamonds, gold, and other natural resources, a majority of the population — about 64% — is considered extremely poor and lives on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank estimates.

The country is fraught with political instability, armed clashes, and human rights violations. Conflict erupted in 2016 in the Kasai region, which includes five provinces in the center of the country. It is yet another instance of fighting between the military and splintered ethnic militias. Nationally, 2.1 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018, making the DRC the African country with the highest number of internally displaced people — 4.5 million. About 13 million people lack adequate food, including more than 1.3 million children under 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition.

Ebola alert — July 17, 2019: The World Health Organization has declared an Ebola outbreak in northeast DRC that began in August 2018 to be a public health emergency of international concern. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for countries to commit more resources to fight the disease. His announcement came three days after a case of Ebola was confirmed in Goma, the capital of Northern Kivu province, which is a transportation hub and home to 1 million people.

Ebola briefly broke out in May 2018 in northwestern DRC, then the deadly virus resurfaced in August in the northeast. This is the 10th outbreak of the deadly viral disease in the DRC since it was identified in the 1970s. Earlier outbreaks were quickly contained and didn’t spread beyond isolated rural communities.

Sponsoring a child in the DRC is a personal way to show God’s love to a child in need.

History of the DRC

The people of the DRC have endured more than two decades of civil war, and conflict has claimed as many as 6 million lives.

16th century to late 19th century — Precolonial era

  • Chiefdoms and many ethnic groups dominate the large sub-Saharan region that is now the DRC.

1885 to 1960 — European colonization

  • King Leopold II of Belgium claims what he calls Congo Free State, which he rules cruelly in a bid to extract natural resources.
  • In response to an international outcry, the Belgian state takes it over in 1908, renaming it the Belgian Congo.

1960 — Independence and Congo crisis

  • A Congolese uprising leads to independence in 1960. The Congo crisis is characterized by years of chaos, multiple coups, and insurgencies.
  • Patrice Lumumba becomes the first legally elected prime minister; less than a year later, he is assassinated.

1965 — President Mobutu Sese Seko

  • Mobutu — formerly Patrice Lumumba’s secretary of state for national defense — seizes power in a bloodless coup and assumes the presidency, forming a totalitarian regime.
  • President Mobutu renames the country to Zaire in 1971.

1996 to 1997 — First Congo war

  • President Mobutu Sese Seko is replaced by Laurent Kabila, a rebel leader, after a foreign invasion by Rwanda. Under the new president, the country’s name is restored to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

1997 to 2003 — Civil war

2003 to 2016 — Continued conflict

  • Armed conflict persists in the East among dozens of rebel groups.
  • In 2006, the DRC holds its first free elections in 40 years, electing Joseph Kabila as its president. Kabila had been appointed to the position after his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated.

2016 to 2019 — Challenges to peace and health

  • Fighting breaks out in Grand Kasai, in the central region, when a traditional leader is killed by security forces.
  • Turmoil flares up sporadically in the East amid political volatility, displacing millions of people.
  • The Ebola outbreak in northeastern DRC is the second-largest ever, surpassed only by the West Africa outbreak that killed 11,000 people from 2014 to 2016.

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FAQs: What you need to know about conflict in the DRC

Explore facts and FAQs about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and learn how you can help affected children, families, and communities.

Fast facts: What is happening in the DRC?

  • About 12.8 million of 81 million people in the DRC need humanitarian assistance and protection, including 5.6 million children.
  • Other concerning problems include child malnutrition and outbreaks of cholera, measles, and Ebola.
  • More than 800,000 people from the DRC live in neighboring countries as refugees, and 4.5 million people are displaced within the country.

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How can I help people in the DRC?

Sponsor a child: Help World Vision continue to provide life-saving assistance to children and communities in the DRC.

Pray: Pray for children and families caught up in violence in the DRC.

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How are conditions in the DRC affecting children?

Children are the main victims of violence, at risk of injury or death in combat, as many children have been recruited into armed groups as porters, combatants, or sex slaves. Children recently released from armed groups have expressed fear of returning home, saying they will not be accepted back into their families and communities.

In addition to food, shelter, and psychosocial support, children need opportunities for play and learning. In Kasai-Central province, 400 schools have been attacked and at least 260 were destroyed, depriving some 150,000 primary-school-age children of access to education.

Read what children in the Kasai region say about how violence has affected their lives in “Will you hear us? 100 children in DRC tell their story,a World Vision report from 2018.

Because of poverty and displacement, many children throughout the country are forced to work rather than attend school. Working in mines is common among children in the DRC, and it’s one of the most dangerous forms of child labor.

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What are the greatest needs of children and families in the DRC?

The greatest needs of children and families in the DRC are food aid and all aspects of child protection. Without reliable sources of food, families are cutting back consumption, and children are becoming malnourished. As many as 13 million people don’t have sufficient food. The U.N. children’s agency estimates that about 1.3 million children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition. This form of malnutrition means children are dying of hunger. With children vulnerable to violence and recruitment into armed groups, they need opportunities for education and strong support systems within their families and communities.

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What is World Vision doing to help people in the DRC?

World Vision has provided relief and development programs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1984. Today, we are operating in 14 of 26 provinces. Our child-focused programming in protection, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, food aid, food security, peacebuilding efforts, and emergency relief reached almost 2.5 million people in 2015. World Vision is the World Food Programme’s largest partner in the DRC, distributing food to nearly 1 million people.

In impoverished areas, families are unable to access education or healthcare opportunities for their children. World Vision has improved schools, adding new classrooms and desks, and provided teachers with training. Our programs have helped improve school attendance, literacy rates, and girls’ education. Healthcare initiatives last year focused on prenatal care for pregnant women and reaching children in remote areas with physical exams and vaccinations to prevent life-threatening childhood diseases.

Since World Vision’s response to the conflict in Kasai began in August 2017, our staff have reached more than 600,000 people with life-saving humanitarian assistance. That includes about 350,000 people who received food and cash, more than 60,000 young children and vulnerable adults in 126 health centers who received treatment or prevention consults for malnutrition, more than 30,000 children who benefited from Child-Friendly Spaces, and 29,000 students who benefited from classroom repairs, back-to-school kits, teacher training, and school-fee scholarships. Our response to the complex situation in the DRC continues in 2019.

Responding to the Ebola outbreak in the northeastern DRC, World Vision focuses on raising awareness about the disease. We train community leaders, teachers, health care workers and families on prevention and provide them with handwashing kits.

Through our Channels of Hope program, more than 138 faith leaders have formed action teams and staged public awareness events in their communities. Christian and Muslim faith leaders have reached about 222,000 people in their congregations with prevention messages and reliable information on seeking treatment.

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Chris Huber and Kathryn Reid of World Vision’s staff in the U.S. contributed to this article.

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