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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Beating malnutrition in the DRC

Family attending a nutrition workshop
Nutrition workshop at Katala health centre held by People in Need and funded by EU humanitarian aid.
© People in Need, 2022

For more than 25 years, conflict has threatened the population of one of the world's poorest countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where people are under constant threat from armed groups.

People in the DRC live in insecurity, under the threat of violence, and in fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

The country is also plagued by waves of displacement, inadequate access to health care, and a high number of people, mainly children under the age of 5, suffering from acute malnutrition. A vicious circle of poverty and ill-health in the DRC is worsening.

With EU humanitarian funding, People in Need works on multiple fronts to help vulnerable people in the DRC combat malnutrition and to provide access to health and nutritional services.

Between April 2021 and January 2022, armed clashes in the DRC resulted in a new wave of internally displaced persons. In the Uvira highlands, over 87,000 people are reported to have been displaced in 2021.

There are currently close to 23,000 displaced persons who are homeless and can neither cultivate their fields nor raise livestock. As a result, children are malnourished, and women have become even more vulnerable. Some have even given birth without medical support while fleeing.

In the highlands of the DRC, accessing medical treatment or medication is limited due to a lack of medical supplies and trained staff. Moreover, the area is plagued by persistent acute malnutrition in children and adults.

High-altitude natural conditions and constant fighting do not allow people to consume a varied or nutritious diet.

Therefore, people living there are caught in a vicious circle of poorly-balanced food and limited resources. The primary aid for acutely malnourished children is called Plumpy Nut, a high-calorie mixed nut paste that can quickly deliver needed nutrients and improve a child's condition.

Providing access to health care

Mother-of-3 Bora Anna fled her village after seeing her husband being taken away by armed gangs.

"I walked with my 3 children for 7 days to get to Katala. We only walked at night to consume less food and water. When we arrived, we were exhausted and dehydrated. I needed help for my sick son, so I was dependent on free care at the health centre," Bora Anna explains.  

Such displacement also puts increased pressure on local communities.

"When the internally displaced persons came to our village, food availability in the markets dropped significantly. At the same time, we have difficulties with low harvests. Pests have invaded our fields. This situation has caused one of my children to suffer from malnutrition," says Bahati Sifa, who has 5 children.

"I host 8 people in my house who have fled the fighting. It is tough to feed them, but we are fortunate because my guests receive free care at the health centre. So my family, who is struggling against malnutrition, is also being taken care of for free," she explains.

With financial support from EU humanitarian aid, PIN is implementing a project to improve the quality and access to healthcare in the regions of Lemera and Ruzizi of the Uvira highlands. Here, around 25,000 people found new homes in the last year.

"Thanks to this project, my child is healthy again. I also gave birth to my next child without paying for care. We were all well taken care of. Today I am healthy, and my child who was malnourished and lost his appetite can take food without any problem because I followed all the advice given to me during the care," says Bahati Sifa.

Mothers sitting in a row on a bench outside at the Katala health center
Mothers at the Katala health center, supported by People in Need and funded by EU humanitarian aid.
© People in Need, 2022

The project also includes a system of mobile clinics. "Thanks to them, we can monitor the needs of people in the villages and adapt to their requirements to receive adequate help. This centre is one of those working with the mobile clinics," says Mbirizi Kavindazi, health officer at the Katala centre.

Raising awareness of the causal factors of malnutrition is an essential part of the work of People in Need in the DRC. The project supports mobile clinics which, among other things, teach locals how to maintain a proper and nutritious diet even under difficult circumstances.

There are workshops to gradually reduce malnutrition in local families and eventually at the national level. Residents are also taught how to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19 and are informed about vaccination.

By addressing 2 interlinked issues – food and health –, EU humanitarian partners are helping internally displaced people and the local communities in the DRC recover from the trauma of displacement and its effects.

Story and photos by People in Need, 2022.
Publication date: 22/07/2022