Suffering in the DR Congo: The Fate of Complex Conflict and Poverty Against Environment

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Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from DR Congo were estimated at 6.1 million people by the end of 2022. This marked the largest record of IDPs recorded in Africa and perhaps the most ill and lifelong crisis on record. The DR Congo conflict is a notorious crisis that has been going on for several decades since the colonial era. It has been the cause-source of the outrageous IDPs in the region, including the thousands of refugees who end up seeking asylum elsewhere in and beyond East Africa’s region.

The current record is about 504,300 refugees and asylum seekers from DR Congo alone. The IDPs, as internally displaced, also include some refugees who cross the border and seek asylum. They are both desperate and uncertain of their life and properties, unrest and despairing, always moving to different directions seeking peaceful settlements.

Now, two years after DR Congo joined the East African Community (EAC) on 29 March 2022, what lesson and implication does its membership in this regional organization imply for the other member states? What additional value does DR Congo accrue, and what reciprocates from different member states?

Also, read How Tshisekedi’s Victory in DRC Will Make or Break EAC

Regardless of the long span of this conflict, it goes without saying that it has landed on deaf ears and blind eyes; subsequently, the conflict continues to persist. Therefore, this conflict has had many economic, social, and environmental impacts, which will be discussed herein.

The environmental impacts of IDPs and refugees are apparent and influenced by many factors, such as the number, duration, and location of displacement, the legal and policy frameworks, the availability and accessibility of humanitarian assistance, and the participation and empowerment of the displaced and the hosts.

These would have been handled through international community support, but here, it has not been able to capture their attention fully. In the media, for example, the ongoing wars in Ukraine- Russia and Israel- Palestine have captured global attention and responses. The DR Congo crisis remains among the forgotten humanitarian crises regardless of its decades of existence with progressing impacts in all measures.

What is wrong with the world, or maybe something is wrong with DR Congo? Yet, the environment remains a neutral victim either way. The impacts are widely known, and conflict intensifies like an unattended field fire.

IDPs, refugees, and conflict at large influence land clearing and cutting down trees for energy demands, precisely for firewood, shelter, or farming. These lead to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and soil erosion and degradation. They also increase the risk of landslides, floods, and droughts, especially in fragile, environmentally affected areas.

While the climate impacts are already in place, the influx of IDPs and refugees intensifies the situation as they scramble for these urgent and basic human needs. Soil compaction makes the soil unproductive. While trees are already cleared, farming land is disturbed and under pressure to increase food demand. Therefore, it is obvious that the escalating conflicts transcend the common life-supporting system and do not stop within the country.

Instead, they cross over beyond the borders. Additionally, the IDPs and refugees generate large amounts of solid and liquid waste, which is likely to contaminate water sources, soil, and air and pose health risks for humans and animals. This can be exacerbated by the lack of adequate sanitation facilities, waste collection, and disposal systems in camps or settlements they were destined.

Regarding the urgent need for clean technology and environmentally friendly energy and mobility, DR Congo is at the forefront of the list of major producers of critical minerals. These minerals are abundant in the DRC, which is the largest producer of copper and cobalt in Africa and has significant reserves of coltan and uranium.

However, the exploitation of these resources has also caused environmental damage and social unrest and fuelled armed conflict in the country. Therefore, the management and governance of these critical minerals are crucial for the peace and development of the DRC and the world. The endowed resources have become curse instead of being a vehicle for prosperity. Why is the region remaining volatile, irrespective of its role as a pivot for civilization at a global scale? The displacement is just increasing on top of the resource utilization conflicts growing day by day.

In some circumstances, the refugees and IDPs face both the eruption of infectious diseases and pandemics and some caused by limited hygienic environments, among others. Some diseases can be prevented and treated with proper health care, hygiene, sanitation, and education. However, refugees often face barriers to accessing these services.

Besides the diseases, sexual and gender violence are amongst the suffering facing these groups and, in some cases, crossing over to the host community as well. In the end, this became humanitarian critical while efforts by regional leaders failed to call for the end of hostilities between the fighting sides. These adds up a burden to the environment and the EAC being in the centre, what is the fate?

READ RELATED: The Blood Gold Mines of The Congo Offer Lessons for Tanzania’s Mining Sector.

Ultimately, the country´s poverty condition, the effects of climate change, scarcity of resources, political instability, and weak governance and justice systems are all causative agents of conflict-induced displacement. These here indicate the complex vicious cycle continuing to harm society, which requires an external force to break. There is no clear way-through towards amicable solution as of now although several joint initiatives are ongoing.

The member states of the EAC have been hosting these groups of needy refugees and IDPs for quite some time, and this creates an extra burden on the economy and environmental carrying capacity. This conflict cuts across many sectors such as agriculture, politics, economics, social, cultural, climate change and environment. It is, therefore, a call for combined efforts to contain the situation for the betterment of humankind and mark the end of the escalating lifetime, deadly and forgotten humanitarian crisis in DR Congo.

The Little-Known Facts or Less Appreciations About the DR Congo.

DR Congo is among the countries within the mighty Congo Basin, which includes Cameron, Gabon, Angola, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and partly Tanzania and Zambia. The basin covers an area of 37 million square kilometres.

It contains more than 10,000 tropical tree species, leaving alone the small and large vertebrates and non-vertebrates. It includes harbouring shelters for hunter-gatherer communities that feed on different foods from this forest. Therefore, it is a great opportunity for the DR Congo to join EAC and make the most of this cooperation to benefit from the endowed natural resources.

DR Congo forest is the lung of the world because it is the largest carbon sink. Although it is the second largest forest in terms of coverage, it is scientifically proven that the tree species in Congo forestry absorb more emissions, making Congo the largest sink.

DR Congo hosts the second largest river in the world, flowing across the Congo basin. It is one of the unique and important fabrics shaping the country’s culture. It is also the deepest river globally, with 4,7000 kilometres long, 220 metres in depth and a discharge of 40,500 cubic meters per second.

Apart from that, underneath the soils of DR Congo is the world’s largest known deposit of cobalt. This essential metal plays a crucial role in lithium-ion batteries, which power everything from smartphones to electric vehicles. The DRC supplied approximately 70% of the world’s cobalt to power the global initiative to shift to intelligent and clean technology for climate change impact mitigation.

Also, read The Hidden Carbon Footprint of Global Military Operations.

Environmentally, politically, socially, economically, humanitarian, and the list goes on, there are heaps of impacts of the conflict not only on DR Congo but crossing and spreading widely in all spheres of life. Given the potentials of the above sectors and the need for a safe and conducive life respecting human dignity, regional organs such as EAC should be supported while spearheading the peace process.

Regardless of the efforts undertaken so far, it is not enough until peace and harmony are attained in DR Congo. Short of that, perhaps there will be no permanent peace globally. DR Congo is the lung of the world and maybe the heart of the world, therefore requiring coming together to facilitate peace-building and long-term solutions to existing conflict.

What Lessons Can Tanzania Take?

Tanzania, with its history of colonial rule and ethnic diversity, must navigate these treacherous waters with a steadfast commitment to inclusive governance and robust state institutions.

The humanitarian crisis unfolding in the DRC paints a stark picture of human suffering on an unprecedented scale. With millions displaced, widespread food insecurity, and rampant human rights violations, the DRC stands as a testament to the fragility of peace and the resilience of the human spirit.

Tanzania’s commitment to upholding human dignity necessitates a multifaceted approach, encompassing humanitarian assistance, refugee protection, and avenues for dialogue to address the root causes of displacement and suffering.

Blessed with abundant natural resources and a burgeoning economy, Tanzania stands at a crossroads of opportunity and challenge. By prioritizing investment in infrastructure, education, and job creation, as a nation, we can fortify its resilience against the destabilizing forces of poverty and inequality, fostering an environment conducive to sustainable growth and shared prosperity.

Protecting our environment must be a priority. Rich biodiversity and pristine ecosystems underscore the imperative of responsible stewardship and conservation efforts. By encouraging and embracing sustainable resource management practices and climate resilience measures, Tanzania can safeguard its natural heritage for future generations while mitigating the risk of environmental degradation and ecological collapse.

Regionally, the DRC’s conflicts have reverberated across borders, threatening regional stability and security. Our engagement within the East African Community (EAC) and the African Union (AU) offers a platform for collective action, diplomatic dialogue, and conflict resolution initiatives. Through collaboration and cooperation with our neighbours, we can play a pivotal role in promoting peace and prosperity across the region while addressing the root causes of instability and conflict.

Dr. Emanueli Ndossi, a seasoned EIA and EA Expert, directs J & Enviroconsult (T) Ltd, with over a decade of experience. His expertise covers Project Management, Monitoring, and Evaluation (M&E) for comprehensive environmental assessments. Dr. Ndossi, with impactful roles in WCST, TFCG, and the University of Queensland, has shaped conservation efforts work spans diverse sectors, contributing to sustainable practices in tourism and conservation. Dr. Ndossi holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Göttingen and an M.Sc. in Environmental Management from the University of Queensland. His active engagement in organizations like ISIE, Carbon Lab, Soil Science Society of Germany, WCST, and FCC showcases his significant contributions to the environmental field.

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