KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Extreme poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo along with ongoing violence continues to affect millions of refugees and Congolese citizens. In a recent report carried out by the World Food Program (WFP), approximately 95 percent of people earn less than $2 a day while almost 43 percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition in the DRC.
WFP Spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs spoke about how low levels of government spending in the education, health care, sanitation and agricultural sectors led to food security difficulties.
“Families [that]have poor diet[s]have a high vulnerability to diseases because they are poor, [and]lack a balanced diet,” said Byrs. “They do not eat properly so their bodies are more vulnerable to diseases. Of course because of diseases, because of people who are not properly fed, it causes major disruption to crops, of course livestock, and altogether infrastructure.”
A decline in foreign aid and a heavy reliance on imports have also added to the area’s woes as nearly 10 percent of the population face acute food insecurity. WFP also announced that many Congolese are at risk of losing access to critical humanitarian operations implemented in the region, if $21 million in funds aren’t raised.
“We targeted two million people in 2014. Unfortunately, we will assist only 1.6 million if we do not get adequate funding from donors,” said Byrs. “There are two million children suffering from malnutrition, and we will focus on the life-saving programs of WFP to ensure that those children get life-saving assistance.”
While the DRC ranked 142 out of 186 countries on the Human Development Index in 2013, hope for prosperity remains. Since 2002, the country’s economy has rised six percent a year and is predicted to reach as high as nine percent in 2014. Although little of this growth is reaching refugees and those living in poverty, other economic opportunities are flowering in the area.
“I have to say, I think there is the opportunity for cocoa to be not only be a really strong economic crop for the Congo, but also to protect the incredible biodiversity there,” said Joe Whinney, founder and CEO of Theo Chocolate, a Seattle-based company which focuses on sourcing DRC-grown cocoa. Even though 70 percent of food consumed in the area comes from imports, the DRC is equipped with a vast amount of natural resources such as timber, minerals, and fertile soil.
Whinney partnered his company with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), led by humanitarian activist Ben Affleck, last year to source cocoa from farmers in the northeastern region of the DRC. The decision came naturally as ECI focuses on cultivating long-term relationships with organizations who support social and economic development for people living in eastern Congo.
The cocoa bean is also being called “militia proof” as rebel organizations see no need to steal the valueless crop. This in turns allows farmers to turn their beans into an outlet for proving themselves a better life while growing the economy. While the DRC has many developmental challenges ahead of them, for now, their consistent economic growth is a positive sign of things to come.