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Congolese woman sticking head out of moving railroad car en route to market.
Legacy of violence

Democratic Republic of Congo

The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to Congolese who are struggling to recover from decades of conflict, ongoing violence and widespread disease.

Country facts
  • Population: 67 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 1.6 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 176
IRC response
  • Started work in Congo: 1996
  • People assisted in 2015: 2.3 million
  • Target: 8.4 million

Congo crisis briefing

Congo, located in Central Africa, has spent decades in the grip of violent conflict and economic unrest. The IRC helps vulnerable Congolese meet urgent needs and provides support to strengthen families and rebuild communities.

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What caused the current crisis in Congo?

Following years of economic and political decline, the war of 1998-2002 led to extreme violence, massive displacement and widespread rape in Congo. Despite several peace agreements, conflict continues to plague the country.

Violence and crisis in Congo have caused an estimated 5.4 million deaths since 1998. Most perished from disease and malnutrition. In the Kivus, violence continues to rage with Congolese women and girls suffering increasingly brutal attacks.

It has been two years since M23, an armed rebel group, withdrew from Congo, putting an end to the 18-month uprising that displaced thousands. M23 may be gone, but recurring violence makes the road to recovery all the more challenging.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Congo?

Although Congo has made progress in growing the economy and improving education and health care, recurrent crises still affect over 15 million people. Congo remains one of the world’s least developed countries in terms of life expectancy, education and standard of living.

The health system is poorly staffed, organized, funded, and supplied. Cholera and measles are prevalent and few people are vaccinated against preventable diseases. Mothers die in 13 out of every 1,000 deliveries, and many children die before their first birthday.

Sexual violence against women and girls is also a significant problem in Congo. Early marriage and pregnancy cause girls to drop out of school, making it harder to earn a living later in life. Many girls and boys do not attend school to begin with, and any instruction they do receive is often poor quality.

How does the IRC help in Congo?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began working in Congo the early 1990s, providing emergency assistance and humanitarian aid to those affected by violence and uprooted from their homes. We also worked with local communities to help them rebuild and construct programs for education and health care.

As the country struggles to recover from decades of conflict and economic decline, the IRC is focusing our efforts in Katanga and North and South Kivu by:

  • providing emergency assistance to hundreds of thousands of people in eastern Congo;
  • empowering communities to identify their own development needs and design and manage their own recovery projects;
  • training health and government workers, rehabilitating hospitals and clinics, and providing essential medicine;
  • providing counseling, medical care and legal assistance to survivors of sexual assault;
  • training thousands of teachers and enabling almost 500,000 children to access basic education in safe schools;
  • ensuring girls are enrolled and succeeding in Congo’s classrooms, so they can take control of their futures through education.

What still needs to be done?

The IRC’s work in Congo is more critical than ever as millions struggle to recover from ongoing conflict and meet basic needs. We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by crisis, specifically women and girls, at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in health, safety, education and economic well-being. Here’s a closer look at some of the work we will be doing over the next few years to achieve our goals.

We will continue to support Congolese who have been forced from their homes by crisis, expanding our reach based on where the greatest need is and where we can create the biggest impact. We’ll also continue to help Congolese women and girls who have suffered from violence and struggled to rebuild their lives.

IRC teams and partners currently reach 2.3 million people in Congo with lifesaving support. We expect to reach 8.4 million people by the year 2020, focusing on the following areas:


People should be protected from illness and receive medical treatment when they need it. Toward this outcome, we plan to ensure that women and girls are protected from and treated for the effects of violence.

The IRC will work to protect women and adolescent girls from unintended pregnancies by promoting best practices in contraception and family planning. We will also continue to promote training to reduce the risk of maternal and child mortality.


People should be safe in their homes and communities, and receive support when they experience harm. The IRC will strengthen our emergency response to address violence in schools and homes. We will also advocate for more services and support initiatives for survivors of violence and abuse.


School-aged children should have age-appropriate literacy, numeracy and social and emotional skills. We will reduce barriers for children to attend school through school rehabilitation, tutoring, financial assistance and infrastructure upgrades. Working with parent teacher committees, we will also help to better manage schools and improve the quality of education.

Economic well-being

People should have the means to meet basic needs; they should have opportunities to earn an income and build their assets. To build communities’ long-term economic resilience, we will invest in business and vocational skills training and economic recovery projects. These projects will emphasize women’s empowerment as a means to reduce gender inequality.

As in all our efforts, the IRC will strive to reach more people more quickly, increase the effectiveness of our work, listen to the concerns of those affected by our work, and hold ourselves accountable for results.


Download the IRC's Congo strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.

Our impact

In 2015, the IRC and our partner organizations in Democratic Republic of the Congo provided:

6.6 Million

people with access to primary and reproductive health care.

We’re working to ensure refugees and displaced people have access to high-quality health care.

Explore our health work.

children and youth with access to IRC-supported schools and educational opportunities.

We’re helping to empower girls to envision their futures and achieve their dreams.

Our Vision not Victim program

men, women and children with gender-based violence prevention efforts in their communities.

Women and children are extremely vulnerable to violence and exploitation. We’re working to ensure they are given the protection they need.

Explore our safety work.

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