IDP camp near Goma in DRC. Photo: Caritas Goma.

The crisis we can’t ignore: what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo and how you can help

After decades of conflict, the Democratic Republic of Congo is facing the most complex and long-standing humanitarian crisis in Africa, and the fourth largest internal displacement crisis in the world.   

The Democratic Republic of Congo is teetering on the brink of a devastating crisis that threatens to leave millions at risk of extreme hunger. The combination of conflict, COVID-19 and climate change has pushed millions into acute food insecurity – one of the highest numbers in the world.  

Despite the devastating consequences of violent attacks and conflicts, disease outbreaks and natural disasters, the crisis has largely been ignored by international media.  

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Snapshot of the Democratic Republic of Congo Crisis

IDP camp near Goma in DRC. Photo: Caritas Goma.

More than 5.6 million people have been forced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Woman in IDP camp in Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo Bitita Dany/Caritas Goma.

26 million people are facing hunger

A woman in an IDP camp in Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Bitita Dany/Caritas Goma.

15 million children are facing hunger

What is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo? 

The Democratic Republic of Congo is facing ongoing conflict and attacks from armed groups in North Kivu and Ituri province.   

In 2017, after years of relative calm, various armed groups started attacking villages, burning houses, stealing livestock and slaughtering entire families.     

The armed groups are fighting over control of the mineral wealth in the region, which is exacerbated by longstanding animosities between two local groups.   

These attacks are increasing radically in frequency, but also in violence.  

In the past six weeks alone, more than 200 civilians have been killed in Ituri, 2,000 houses destroyed and 80 schools damaged.   

In North Kivu province, people have been fleeing aerial bombardment and forced recruitment into armed groups.   

Since 20 October 2022, the conflict has escalated, with reports of attacks on villages across the region. In late January 2023, Kitshanga was captured by the rebel armed groups.   

The near-constant fighting has forced over 500,000 people from their homes since March 2022. This in addition to millions who were already displaced.  

Villages are facing almost daily attacks, including looting and burning of shelters and homes to the ground.   

Now people who have already fled violent attacks are under attack again and forced to pack up their few possessions and search for a new place to stay.  

For many, there is nowhere safe left to go.  

What happens to Internally Displaced People in Democratic Republic of Congo?  

Right now, nearly nine in ten people forced from their homes by the fighting are currently staying in overcrowded shelters and improvised sites, many even sleeping outside. Many of those displaced are women, children and people with disability.   

Some camps have already ballooned to huge numbers and are vying for limited resources in one small area.   

In the middle of this volatility, aid organisations, including Caritas Australia’s partner CAFOD, are responding with emergency support, including food, water and shelter.   

Caritas agencies and the WFP have distributed emergency food rations to 14,000 households in a camp in Kanyarucinya, but people still do not have access to hygiene, clean drinking water, sleeping supplies, protection for children and education.    

With so many people living in poor, cramped condition, diseases are rife. In Nyiragongo Territory, there has been a cholera outbreak in the camps, with over 3,500 suspected cases and 16 deaths recorded since 31 October 2022.  

A displaced family in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Bitita Dany
A displaced family in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Bitita Dany

What happens to women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo? 

After decades of violent conflict, sexual and gender-based violence have had devastating consequences on women and children. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world. It’s estimated that over one million women and girls have been sexually assaulted over the last 20 years 

Sexual and gender-based violence including kidnapping, rape and forced marriages are frequently used a weapon of war to control and terrorise civilians.  

Sadly, most survivors do not report the crime for fear of being outcast and stigmatised. This also impedes efforts to collect data on sexual violence in the DRC. The victims suffer from life-long physical and psychological trauma, impairing their ability to participate in the development of their communities and making them more vulnerable. 

The impact of climate change on the crisis in Democratic Republic of Congo 

The impact of climate change on Democratic Republic of Congo is frequently overshadowed by the severity of the ongoing conflict, but this does not make the consequences of drought and other extreme weather patterns any less devastating for communities.  

The Democratic Republic of Congo relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture, so when there are droughts agricultural production plummets. After decades of conflict, many farms are no longer productive enough to sustain the families that rely on them.  

The country has one of the highest volumes of freshwater on the African continent, yet only 26 per cent of the population have access to safe drinking water, a figure that is well below the 60 per cent average for Sub-Saharan Africa, due to the poor state of the water infrastructure after years of conflict.  

This means that even when there is enough water, there is little prospect of growing food for sustenance or for income for most people.   

Around the world, food and fuel prices are skyrocketing because of the war in Ukraine. Regions like Africa are especially impacted. Around 80 per cent of all the wheat in the Democratic Republic of Congo is from Ukraine and Russia, leaving many communities facing acute hunger.  

Lulu Mitshabu visiting Caritas Australia Partners in DRC in Jan 2023. Photo: Lulu Mitshabu, Caritas Australia.

“While the world is busy and nobody is looking, we have M23 occupying villages forcing people to flee en masse from their homes. We must act quickly, because in one camp there are nearly 20,000 people crammed into one place, without water, sanitation or even shelter. This is a recipe for disaster."

Lulu Mitshabu

Why is Democratic Republic of Congo considered a ‘forgotten crisis?  

With over 5.6 million people displaced, the DRC is home to the largest displacement crisis in Africa, making it one of the biggest displacement crises in the world.  

Despite these serious and urgent needs, the crisis in the DRC has largely been overshadowed by COVID-19, the invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa.   

A lack of media attention and funding has left millions of people without adequate support, only further compounding the tragedy.   

According to the NRC, the aid provided to the DRC in 2021 was less than $1 per week per person in need.   

Yet millions of vulnerable people urgently need help.   

2023 is expected to bring increased attacks and conflict, as a result of rising tensions in the lead up to general elections scheduled for December 2023.   

Why did Pope Francis visit Democratic Republic of Congo?  

The last papal visit to a central African country was 37 years ago, when the country was still called Zaire, and Pope John Paul II met with former President Mobutu Sese Seko.   

In the intervening decades, millions of lives have been lost to conflict. The International Rescue Committee has calculated that up to 5.4 million lives were lost from conflict or crisis between 1998 and 2007 alone. 

Pope Francis brought a message of peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo.   

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Catholics make up about half of the population, yet are key players in health and education, as well as in democracy- and peace-building efforts.   

Caritas Australia’s Program Coordinator for Democratic Republic of Congo, Lulu Mitshabu, joined around 40 other aid workers in an audience with the Pope to discuss the devastating crisis in the eastern region.   

According to the Vatican's ambassador to DRC, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, "[the]Congo is a moral emergency that cannot be ignored."