Why hunger persists in the Congo 

By Rc Diedrich 

Nearly half of all children in the Democratic Republic of Congo are short for their age, a phenomenon known as “stunting”. While a variety of factors can cause stunting, the most common are poor diet and poor mental health throughout pregnancy. According to the United Nations (UN), 27 million people suffer from “acute” hunger and roughly 7 million suffer from “emergency” level hunger in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Based on the massive amount of starvation, the Food and Agriculture Organization classified the DRC as the world’s biggest food crisis. In 2021, 41% of the country’s population  million was undernourished. These levels of hunger lead to higher rates of child mortality and starvation. Hunger continues to be a prevalent issue for a couple of reasons. 

Structural conditions and the economic context 

Economically, the DRC is ranked 179 out of 198 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index. The economy has been struggling for decades. Since then, the economy has been very unstable, making it difficult for people to afford food. Not only does the economy contribute to the hunger problem but environmental factors do as well. The University of Notre Dame’s 2018 ND-GAIN Country Index listed the Republic as the fifth most-vulnerable country in the world when it came to climate change. The DRC has a relatively low level of adaptability in response to climate-related problems, making it an increasingly high risk location for hunger-related problems. Additionally, issues like pests and disease diminish the country’s food supplies, increasing the levels of hunger. 

Perhaps the most complicated to solve when considering hunger is conflict. Strife and unrest have plagued the DRC for nearly a century. Beginning with the Belgian colonization characterized by slavery exploitation, mass killings and disease, conflicts in the DRC have been focused both inwardly and outwardly. Upon becoming a Republic independent of Belgium, the DRC experienced a 36-year dictatorship, two Congo Wars and perpetual localized violence to this day. Not only is the turbulent history detrimental to the people living in the Congo but also to the economy which is vital in maintaining suitable living standards. The conflicts around the DRC are complicated and revolve around land, access to both economic and natural capital and political turmoil. 

The radical effects of climate change 

Despite economic issues, climate change and conflict perpetuating hunger within the DRC, its people remain resilient and capable. David Beasley,  Director of the World Food Programme, said: “what the brave people I met [in the DRC] want most of all is peace – peace to be able to grow their own food, to rebuild their lives and to build a brighter tomorrow for their children.” The DRC relies heavily on importing food to sustain its population and only uses about 10% of available agricultural land. While efforts from foreign countries can help in combating mass starvation within the DRC, it is vital that the country finds a way to utilize its capacity for food production in the face of a hunger crisis. Foreign efforts to aid in the crisis have also been relatively futile, leading to more conflict and division. The country has a large quantity of precious materials, including diamonds and gold, which have long been exploited by both the government of the DRC and foreign powers. Persisting local conflicts make these issues challenging to remedy but nevertheless, the country has inherent economic value and must find a way to stabilize its economy and create a more sustainable food system if it is to recover from this hunger crisis. 

Perpetuated by climate change, economic instability and violent conflicts, hunger is becoming increasingly detrimental to the people living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Conflicts at home make it extremely difficult to organize and structure efforts to remedy the hunger crisis, from distributing food to restructuring the economy and organizing politics. Under these issues is a land rich with potential for economic and agricultural growth. While conflicts make ending the hunger crisis difficult, there must be an effort to stabilize politics, protect the environment and increase self-sustainability in the DRC.

It is striking to see how perpetual violence keeps an end to the hunger crisis out of reach. As humans, we often get caught up in issues of moral principle and drag conflicts on longer than necessary, despite our amazing capacity to empathize, organize and provide aid to our fellow human beings. It is hard to say exactly what the true solution is, but it sounds evident that food waste around the world is a big problem. There is a grotesque excess of food thrown away each year that, if managed and distributed correctly, could remedy the immediate problem of hunger.  

Rc Diedrich is student in English at SLU-Madrid. 

To quote this article or video, please use the following reference:  Rc Diedrich (2022), Why hunger persists in the Congo https://crisesobservatory.es/why-hunger-persists-in-the-congo

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