Congo Floods Serve as Reminder of Larger Problems

Heavy rainfall in the Democractic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Kalehe region of South Kivu province last week caused several rivers to overflow, causing landslides that engulfed the villages of Bushushu and Nyamukubi. The hillside also gave way at Nyamukubi, where the weekly market was held on Thursday. In all, several villages were submerged, many houses washed away and fields devastated, killing nearly three hundred, injuring many others and destroying the lives and livelihoods of thousands.

But the flooding should serve as a stark reminder that Congo has a long way to go in ensuring safety and security for its citizens in several areas. A report by Amnesty International highlights several of the most pressing issues in Congo including abuses by armed groups, internally displaced people’s rights, unlawful killings, denial of humanitarian access, the right to truth, justice and reparations, freedom of expression, association and assembly, inhumane detention conditions, and the right to education.

In addition to the violent conflict and instability, Congo also faces multiple simultaneous crises including widespread poverty, high levels of violence against women, malnutrition and weak food security, and environmental challenges such as deforestation and forest degradation, according to Norad. A study published by the organization also showed that “since DRC is facing multiple crises on such an enormous scale, the country also faces funding shortages and an inadequate response to its vulnerable populations.”

With a population of nearly 100 million, there is no room for dysfunction, but that is exactly what is happening. The government is incapable or disinterested in providing the necessary services to ensure the stability and advancement of its citizens. Local police are equally incapable or disinterested in maintaining peace and security for citizens and for this reason, violence and crime run rampant.

Human Rights Watch also highlighted many of the issues in Congo. In its recent report, HRW wrote that the collapse of President Felix Tshisekedi’s alliance with former President Joseph Kabila’s coalition in December 2020 “created new opportunities to push forward with stalled reform efforts, but progress on systemic reforms and improvements in the human rights and humanitarian situations were limited. In eastern Congo, fighters from armed groups, and in some cases government security forces, carried out massacres, kidnappings, sexual violence, recruitment of children, and other attacks on civilians with near total impunity.”

HRW notes that journalists, activists, whistleblowers, and critics of government policies continue to be “intimidated and threatened, beaten, arrested, and in some cases prosecuted by the authorities and security forces.”

This atmosphere of violence and lawlessness pervades the very core of the DRC and limits its ability to operate as an actual democracy with equal rights for all. Children are threatened and education is at risk. If the next generation cannot receive a full and quality education, the entire future of the country is at risk.

With much to gain and little to lose, armed groups and corrupt officials have taken charge of the country and threaten all those who desire a better life. The involvement of the United Nations and humanitarian groups has proven inadequate so far and there is little hope for the average citizen. Change must be implemented, but this takes time and requires the right actors in the right place at the right time.

Furthermore, and directly connected to the flooding, Congo is home to the world’s second largest rain forest. According to HRW, “Scientists estimate that the forest’s soil alone holds billions of tons of carbon, as much as 20 years’ worth of the fossil fuel emissions of the United States. If released through increased deforestation or other disturbances it could have catastrophic effects on efforts to contain climate change.”

The problem, is that due to corruption, successive governments have continued to grant multiple logging contracts to companies, despite imposing a moratorium on new logging concessions back in 2002. Continuous and unregulated logging will only further damage the rain forests and hasten deforestation. This devastation will only further contribute to the negative effects of climate change – and more flooding – resulting in more loss of life. This is a tragedy.

With so many compounded issues, the DRC must tackle each one, one at a time, to make progress in a measured and calculable way. Otherwise, chaos will continue to reign and forward progress will remain elusive. The DRC should bring in a team of international experts who can tackle the immediate military, economic, and political challenges. With this three-pronged approach, it is possible for the DRC to move beyond its current state of lawlessness and chaos toward a brighter future with hope, security, and stability for all its citizens.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.