KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo — The Democratic Republic of the Congo is experiencing significant population displacement and food insecurity as a result of conflict in neighboring states and an ongoing and violent civil war that began in the 1990s.
While the DRC holds an immense amount of mineral and agricultural resources, a high number of children suffer from malnutrition. According to the World Food Programme, 6.4 million people do not know where their next meal will come from or are food insecure.
According to the World Health Organization, 24.2 percent of children under 5 years old were underweight. As of 2011, over half the population lived below the minimum dietary energy consumption. In addition, UNICEF reports that 46 percent of children are stunted, meaning they are under the normal height for their age, an indication of significant and widespread malnutrition in the DRC. Further, over half of women and children up to preschool-age suffer from iron deficiencies, which represents a severe public health problem for the population.
The World Food Programme said that the cost of providing food aid reached $40 million by October 2014.
According to UNICEF, there are significant challenges to combatting malnutrition in the DRC because the areas most affected by food insecurity are inaccessible to relief agencies. In addition, the social, political and economic instability within the DRC prevents people from taking advantage of the surplus of agricultural resources and farming.
“If I’m a Congolese, I’m not going to plant, hoe, weed and do all that back-breaking work for the next six months if I have a reasonable fear that in three months I might be running for my life,” said Dr. J Peter Pham of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. “Or if I’m not running, that a marauding gang, or for that matter, marauding government troops, are likely to eat my crop for me.”
UNICEF establishes health centers and also employs community members to improve health treatments in order to more easily detect malnutrition in young children and provide therapeutic food to people in the DRC.
In order to combat the root of food insecurity and malnutrition in the DRC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations works to train locals on farming techniques and provides them with quality supplies to aid the agricultural economy for refugees. The FAO also plans to improve the country’s infrastructure and ease farmer’s commute to local markets.
The FAO empowers women to bolster the rural economy and works to increase education on nutrition. Many of these women are victims of sexual violence, and their communities ostracize them. By educating women on farming techniques and providing resources, a significant portion of the population will become self-sustainable.
While there are many challenges for combatting malnutrition, these organizations are working to create a sustainable method of providing food that locals can champion and continue to produce for generations to come.
– Tara Wilson
Sources: BBC, UNICEF, Child Info, World Food Programme, Al Jazeera, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Photo: Friend of The Farmer