Conflicts, economic problems, and climate change have left The Democratic Republic of Congo facing a years-long food crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis and compounded an already existing health crisis. Together these have reduced livelihoods and disrupted local food markets, leading to a decline in the health status of vulnerable populations.
In the DRC, conflict is both a cause and a consequence of food shortages. Many vulnerable households can no longer afford to buy sufficient food without assistance. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the pandemic has destroyed approximately 305 million full-time jobs globally. In the DRC, unemployment primarily affects young people—and women in particular. People in Need, with the support of US AID, is organising food distributions and nutritional cooking classes for vulnerable people in the DRC. Through our efforts, more than 750 vulnerable households have received support.
"My life has completely changed since this disease was discovered; my husband lost his job and was forced to return to the village where we live. We had a hard time coping when my husband was unemployed due to the pandemic, not to mention the growing insecurity we live in," says Zawadi Génerose, a 27-year-old mother of four.
The Shabunda region is no stranger to long-standing food shortages. The people of this region address this issue by importing produce from Bukavu city and North Kivu province. However, authorities blocked roads during the pandemic to prevent the spread of disease and, in doing so, cut Shabunda residents off from food. The market for products was restricted, and people had reduced access to food. Due to food shortages, violence has increased in the region, and people are afraid to work alone in the fields.
"Sometimes, I am afraid to go to work alone in the fields. It's in the forest, and I don't know what can happen to me; people are kidnapped for ransom, and sometimes thieves break in and steal our food." Zawadi Génerose says, *"I have received seeds from the PIN and attended training on preparing food that meets the nutritional needs of my family," *she notes further.
One of the activities of PINs in the Shabunda region is the distribution of food parcels, with families receiving cassava flour, beans, rice and palm oil. These distributions also include training and cooking demonstrations to raise awareness among mothers about nutritional foods and the necessary dietary diversity. These culinary demonstrations always use produce that women receive in food parcels or can grow themselves. The PIN tries to motivate mothers to introduce this style of cooking in their households, thus significantly reducing the malnutrition observed in the area.
It should be added that the COVID-19 pandemic has been significantly reduced in this part of eastern DR Congo, but the risk of spread remains.
Author: Zawadi Izabayo, Veronika Gabrielová