Programs in Democratic Republic of Congo
When forced to flee from armed conflict, families lose everything. The International Rescue Committee reacts quickly to assess the needs of newly displaced populations and provides basic necessities such as plastic sheeting, buckets, water-storage containers and blankets. In eastern Congo, in addition to traditional distributions where everyone receives the same package, the IRC is using a targeted method that delivers more effective and personalized aid.
The Congolese government is still struggling to provide basic services to its population. Congo is ranked in the bottom ten countries in world for life expectancy, education and standard of living. In the void of government assistance, the IRC helps people take ownership and make decisions in their own communities by encouraging participation in governance and civil society. When displaced people return home or settle in a new place, it is important for them to be involved in how their community develops and runs to make sure that their needs are met. The IRC works in war-devastated villages, helping them identify and address their priorities and carry out long-term recovery. The IRC works with 2.6 million people in more than 2,000 villages to assist them in driving their own development.
Tuungane: “Let’s Unite”
An important step towards recovery is physical reconstruction. The project, called Tuungane, or “Let’s Unite,” gives communities the chance to vote on what kind of project, like a classroom, health clinic or road, they think would benefit their community the most and engage directly in its construction. This process encourages democratic decision-making and principles of transparency as they manage their development projects.
5.4 million people have died as a result of the conflict in Congo, most from easily treatable diseases like diarrhea and malaria. The IRC is working with the Congolese health authorities to provide essential health care for 4 million people. This collaboration includes constructing and repairing hospitals and clinics, supplying them with equipment and medicine, and training Congolese health workers in health center management, emergency obstetric care, universal precautions and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Documenting Deaths to Save Lives
In an effort to scientifically document and monitor the scope of the crisis in the DR Congo, the IRC conducted a series of five mortality surveys in the country over seven years, partnering with some of the world’s leading epidemiologists. The initial survey in 2000 found that 1.7 million people had died from conflict-related causes since war erupted in 1998. In the fifth and most recent study completed in 2007, the Burnet Institute of Australia and the IRC estimated that the conflict and its aftermath caused a total of 5.4 million deaths. The vast majority were not killed in combat: Most died from malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition--easily preventable and treatable conditions when people have access to health care and nutritious food.
Reproductive Health Care
One in 13 women in the Democratic Republic of Congo dies in pregnancy or childbirth, often from easily preventable and treatable complications. Working with Congolese health authorities, the IRC is improving reproductive health care by training medical staff to ensure better treatment and providing medical equipment and supplies to health centers and hospitals.
Due to ongoing instability in Congo, many women also face medical problems as a result of rape. The IRC seeks to improve reproductive health services, including post-rape health care. Women’s health services exist, but remain centralized in provincial capitals and are not widely available in rural areas, where a large percentage of sexual assault happens. Women and girls are vulnerable during their daily chores like retrieving firewood and doing laundry in remote areas.
Protecting and Empowering Women
Rape is used as a weapon of war in Congo. Women and girls of all ages are raped or held as sexual slaves by armed groups as part of a strategy to terrorize and control communities. The IRC has assisted more than 40,000 survivors of gender based violence in Eastern Congo. The IRC facilitates access to health care and psychosocial care, as well as juridical services for women and girls who have survived sexual violence in North and South Kivu. We also give livelihood opportunities to survivors and other vulnerable women throughout the two provinces.
Girls and boys are at risk of abuse, violence and abduction and many have been separated from their families. The IRC provides a secure place for children, called “a Child Friendly Space” amid these threats that is not only safe, but also fosters learning and healing through age appropriate play and , access to health care and education.
About 4 million Congolese children are estimated to be out of school. The IRC works closely with communities in Eastern Congo to ensure that children and youth have access to safe, quality primary education even in times of displacement and instability. Efforts to improve access to education include building and rehabilitating classrooms and latrines, training teachers, distributing school supplies and working with parents and school personnel to improve school safety and management. The IRC forms these community-based parent groups to support and strengthen schools and keep children learning and parents invested in their children’s education, even during emergencies.