The economic and social chaos and armed conflicts in the 1990s and into the 2000s have hit the population hard. Despite an improved security situation and some growth, the situation is still difficult, with widespread violence, deep poverty and the lack of public service.
In 2018, Congo-Kinshasa ranked 176 out of 189 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index, HDI – which measures such as life expectancy, access to education and national income. Over half the population lives on the equivalent of less than 1.25 US dollars a day. According to the World Bank, nearly three residents were counted out of four as poor in 2018. The poorest is the population in the Kasai region and in the country’s northwestern parts.
- Countryaah Official Site: Official statistics for population in Democratic Republic of the Congo, including population growth, density, and estimation in next 50 years.
Save the Children in 2013 classified Congo-Kinshasa as the worst country in the world for mothers. In a comparison of 176 countries of maternal health, child mortality, women’s education level and their income and social status, Congo ranked last.
Hospitals and health centers have a large shortage of staff and equipment and find it difficult to pay wages. Patients often have to adhere to medication themselves. Outside Kinshasa, there is hardly any access to modern healthcare.
Since the outbreak of the civil war in 1998, illnesses, exacerbated by starvation, have claimed more human lives than the war itself. A large proportion of the population does not receive enough calories per se and in some parts of the country there is severe malnutrition. About three quarters of the population does not have access to clean water.
The Great Civil War 1998–2003 and the conflicts since then, mainly in the East and Northeast, are estimated to have claimed between 3 million and about 5.5 million people’s lives, directly or indirectly. Exact figures are hard to come by, partly because it is difficult to calculate how many people would have died due to poor health and the general collapse of society.
Vaccination campaigns ceased during the civil war, which contributed to increased spread of diseases such as measles, meningitis and tuberculosis. On several occasions, measles epidemics have erupted, by 2019. WHO estimated in November this year that over a quarter of a million people had contracted measles and more than 5,000 had died of the disease. This is despite the fact that a major vaccination campaign was launched in September 2019. Malaria, typhoid and cholera also require many human lives.
AIDS is a problem, even though the proportion of infected people is significantly lower than especially in neighboring countries in the south. In 2018, the UN agency Unaids estimated that around 450,000 people aged 15 to 49 years were infected with the HIV virus or had developed AIDS, which corresponds to about 0.8 percent of the population. Of these, just over two out of three were women. According to Unaids, 62 percent of all HIV-infected people over the age of 15 are estimated to receive treatment for the disease, but in the case of children, the corresponding figure is 25 percent. There are also more men than women receiving brake medication.
The collapse of the public sector means that all statistics are pure guesses. In areas particularly hard hit by the war, the proportion of women infected is believed to be significantly higher than the figures above suggest, not least because of the systematic rape committed by soldiers on all sides of the conflict.
In May 2017, it was reported that a minor outbreak of the infectious viral disease ebola had erupted in an inaccessible area of rural Bas-Uele province. Four people died, but in July 2017, the outbreak was said to be over. The following spring, 29 people died of the disease in the northwestern part of the country. The concern was that it would spread further when cases were reported from the big city of Mbandaka. In the past, it was only rural people who had been affected. In connection with this, attempts were made to use new vaccines against the disease.
From August 2018 to the end of February 2020, more than 2,300 people died of Ebola in eastern Congo-Kinshasa, the most vulnerable being the Beni region of North Kivu and the neighboring Ituri province. For the first time, new drugs are used in the treatment of patients. The continued violence in the region and the deep mistrust towards the authorities hampered efforts to control the disease and discover new disease cases (read more about that here). During the first ten months of 2019, at least 300 attacks had been targeted at health care facilities and staff, 6 people had been killed and 70 injured. The violence has delayed the work of vaccinating the population. Many Congolese also do not believe that the disease exists.
Since several cases were also reported from Uganda, the WHO gathered in June to assess the situation, but concluded that it was not yet an “international crisis situation”. After the first case of illness was reported from the big city of Goma in Nordkivu, the WHO made a new assessment and announced an international crisis situation (see Calendar).
Homosexuality is not prohibited in Congo-Kinshasa, unlike many other countries in Africa. But acceptance is low and several proposals have been made in recent years to criminalize homosexuality. Otherwise, LGBTQ rights are rarely openly debated. There are no laws that give gay couples legal protection.
A widespread social problem that has received considerable attention in recent years is the widespread occurrence of rape. Sexual violence has become part of the war, mainly in the eastern Congo. It is mainly targeted at women, but children and men are also affected. Militants and soldiers systematically commit sexual abuse that is often very brutal and leaves the victims with severe injuries. Few cases reach court, although more have been filed in recent years compared to before. During the period 2010–2012, the former Swedish Minister and EU Commissioner Margot Wallström was the first Special Representative for the UN Secretary-General on issues related to sexual violence in conflicts.
The woman’s situation is also exposed outside conflict areas. Especially in the countryside, women are discriminated against, even though all Congolese should be equal before the law. Many women get married before they turn 18, even though it is forbidden. However, legislation has improved in recent years and now men and women have the same age of government: 18 years. In most cases, however, the man is regarded as the head of the family.
Abortion is only allowed in cases where the woman’s life is considered to be in danger.
Difficult living conditions and social misery have led to high crime rates in large parts of the country, especially in the big cities and the war-torn provinces in the east.
FACTS – SOCIAL CONDITIONS
Infant Mortality: 68 per 1000 births (2018)
Percentage of HIV infected: 0.8 percent (2018)
Proportion of HIV infected among young women
0.5 percent (2018)
Proportion of HIV infected among young men: 0.2 percent (2018)
Proportion of population with access to clean water: 41.8 percent (2015)
Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 20.5 percent (2017)
Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 4.3 percent (2015)
Public expenditure on health care per person: $ 21 (2016)
Proportion of women in parliament: 9 percent (2018)
Three countries in offensive against the LRA
Ugandan, South Sudanese and Congolese soldiers launch an offensive against the Ugandan LRA guerrilla bases in Congo-Kinshasa. Tens of thousands of civilians flee the area.
Humanitarian disaster threatens in Goma
The situation worsens in Nordkivu, when the CNDP Tutsi rebels advance towards Goma and conquer several smaller cities near the provincial capital. The fighting threatens to lead to a new humanitarian disaster.
New battles in North Kivu
New fighting breaks out in Nordkivu between Nkunda’s rebel forces and the government army.
Bemba is arrested in Belgium
Opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba is arrested in Belgium after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for him (see April 2007). Bemba is suspected of war crimes his soldiers must have committed in the Central African Republic in 2002–2003, when they helped President Ange-Félix Patassé defeat a coup attempt.
Armistice is included in Goma
A ceasefire is signed after the autumn’s fighting at a conference in Goma in Nordkivu. Among other things, it is said that the hutumilis FDLR should be disarmed. But already the month after, CNDP withdraws from the ceasefire.