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Climate Change in the Eastern Congo: A current look at impact

January 17, 2020

Recent reports outline the extreme vulnerability of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to climate change.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) can be one of the hardest places to live. Widespread hunger, the outbreak of epidemics, and political instability have led the UNDP to rank the central African country’s development at the lowest level. Now, further reports show how conditions in the DRC are likely to worsen because of climate change.

Food insecurity, water scarcity, natural disasters, and an inhospitable temperature are among the effects of climate change that place the people of the DRC at risk. As survival becomes harder under these new conditions, the importance of ecological resilience keeps rising.

Recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands conducted a thorough analysis of the DRC’s climate change vulnerabilities. The findings were alarming. Of 181 countries evaluated, ranked as the 12th most vulnerable country to climate change and the 5th least prepared. This combination makes it extremely sensitive to the negative effects of climate change but poorly prepared to cope.

This comes in spite of the fact that only two countries release fewer carbon emissions than the DRC.

The consequences of global climate change disproportionately affect the lives of the poor

The Dutch report described how climate change spells out significant negative impacts on the physical ecosystems of the country.

The DRC will be subject to increasing temperatures and inconsistent rain. However, socioeconomic threats are even higher. “Food security will be affected due to crop losses and failures, increased livestock mortality, negative impacts on fisheries, and damage to infrastructure,” it summarizes.

The report’s other projections for the DRC over the next 100 years included:

  • Over 100% more dry spells during the rainy season
  • Temperature that exceeds the 1.5ºC change that poses a significant threat to Earth
  • An increase in extreme events, particularly flooding that brings soil erosion and crop failure

These are not just pending projections for the DRC, but harmful threats that have already begun. The people of the DRC must find ways to adapt and restore their ecosystems.

Improved land management practices can help build climate resilience in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Improved land management practices can help build climate resilience in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Climate resilience will be especially important for the Congolese people.

Climate resilience is the ability for people and land to absorb the new challenges and adapt into a sustainable ecosystem in spite of climate change’s impact. This doesn’t downplay the importance of working to stop climate change. This is not meant to encourage a fatalistic response to our environmental crisis. It simply recognizes that climate change is not a future event, but an ongoing process that has already affected many lives.

The DRC has one of the highest ratings of food scarcity in the world. In a country where around 70% of people work in agriculture, the inability to grow food contributes to both hunger and poverty. Behind the lack of food are intense floods that erode the soil and irregular rainfall that causes it to go infertile.

Certain populations are more affected by climate change than others. In the DRC, along with most of the world, women are more severely affected by climate change than men. Their common role in agricultural work, family life, and income-generating activities makes them very dependent on the health of their land. At the same time, they have less access to resources to cope. Children are also highly affected. The DRC is a very youthful country with one of the highest rates of population growth.

This burden leads many women to turn to informal labor sectors to try and cope. Children also feel the pressure and look for work in unsafe environments. In the Congo, one of the most common places that people turn to for work opportunities are copper or cobalt mines. These mines, however, elevate many hazards to the health of people and the environment. The desperation for opportunities has also driven millions of people to leave their homes. Most migrate to cities in search of opportunities.

The most vulnerable area to climate change in the DRC is the Great Lakes region, along the country’s eastern border.

This is where Plant With Purpose’s work in the Congo is based.

What would climate resilience look like for the people of the DRC? It would have to include financial opportunities to keep people from winding up in exploited labor. It would have to significantly incorporate women’s empowerment. Sustainable land use, peacebuilding, and regenerative agriculture and farming would also play significant roles.

A team in DRC studies Scripture and Creation Care

A team in the DRC studies Scripture and Creation Care

Food forests, sustainable land use, and reforestation help build resilience. 

Plant With Purpose’s vision for climate resilience in our DRC communities is twofold: First, it is for the families of the Congo to be able to have access to sufficient resources and opportunities to thrive in spite of these challenging conditions. Second, it is to heal their watersheds and ecosystems in order to mitigate climate change. The hope is for their land and lives to eventually reach a point of abundance.

Current reports paint a picture of the DRC that makes this vision seem a long way off, sometimes. But in the watersheds around Lake Tanganyika where Plant With Purpose has established programs over the past five years, we’ve seen glimpses of what is possible. 

We’ve seen trees planted by the thousands and soil protected from the effects of erosion. We've seen communities participating in land and forest management with enthusiasm and hope. As some watersheds have experienced environmental restoration, they’ve also seen improvements in socioeconomic opportunities. Poverty across one participating watershed shrunk to one third of what it used to be after two years of tree planting and restoration.

Reforestation is one of our most effective strategies to build climate resilience.

The presence of a healthy forest offers so many benefits that listing each comprehensively would be a challenge. Trees attract moisture and help protect groundwater. They prevent runoff and the danger of soil erosion that accompanies sudden downpours. They also provide shade and carbon sequestration. This helps bring down the temperature in places where people live, raise livestock, and grow food.

Speaking of growing food, one of the most helpful ways we’ve helped rural populations adapt amidst the climate struggle has been growing food forests. By intercropping their crops amongst a variety of trees, farmers are able to enjoy the benefits of healthier harvests. The complex root systems of trees stimulate healthy soil, which helps harvests.

One of our targets in the Congo has been to help rural communities gain the skills and knowledge to promote sustainable land use. Because we work in partnership with locals, we see communities take their commitments to sustainable land to heart. Sustainable land use spreads throughout villages very quickly because of this partner-centric approach. The result is healthier land in several dozen Congolese communities.

To help people in the DRC achieve climate resilience, make a simple gift of $22! This contribution will allow them to receive training, knowledge, and opportunities in tree planting, forest management, and community solidarity. Make a donation by following this link.

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