The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is located in central sub-Saharan Africa, in the Congo Basin , . It is the second largest country in Africa, and the 11th largest in the world, with a total land area of 2,345,408 km² , . DRC is considered one of the “Giants” of Africa, due to its large area and population, location in the centre of Africa, and its wealth of natural resources . The country shares borders with the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and Angola , . The DRC has a largely equatorial climate; however, this varies across the country’s extensive land area. Generally, the country is hot and humid in the north and west, an area located within a significant portion of the Congo River Basin. The southern, central and eastern areas are generally cooler and drier .
The DRC is endowed with an exceptional abundance of natural resources, including minerals such as cobalt and copper, hydropower potential, significant arable land, and immense biodiversity . Contrastingly, DRC is a least developed country, considered as one of the poorest in the world and ranked 175th out of 189 countries in the UNDP’s Human Development Index (2020) , . Additionally, the country’s extensive history of conflict, poor governance, and weak institutions pose significant development challenges .
The DRC has an estimated population of 89.5 million inhabitants (2020) , and a density of around 38.19 inhabitants per km² . In addition, DRC has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, estimates suggest that by 2050, the population will reach nearly 200 million .
About 38% of the DRC's population is urban, of which about 75% live in informal settlements . The DRC is also home to one of the largest pygmy populations in the basin (indigenous peoples who have traditionally lived as hunter-gatherers in the rainforest of the Congo Basin), numbering nearly 2 million .
The country’s GDP growth averaged 7.8% between 2011 and 2015, well above the 5% average of sub-Saharan Africa . The agricultural sector accounts for 66% of the formal workforce and 20% of GDP, whilst the service and industrial sectors employ 34% of the labor force and account for almost 80% of GDP . Despite the positive improvements recorded by the country, poverty in the DRC remains among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa (77% of the population lives on less than USD 1.90 per day and 7.7 million people are acutely food insecure in rural areas) .
COVID-19 and its health and socio-economic implications are further worsening the humanitarian situation in the country. Following the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, the DRC experienced its first recession in 18 years . However, according to the African Economic Outlook (AEO) 2021, the economic outlook for the DRC for 2021 and 2022 is favorable if the pandemic is brought under control and global demand recovers . Real GDP is expected to grow in 2021 and 2022, driven by higher prices for major mining products, such as copper, and recovery in both consumption and investment .
The European Union (EU) supports the Government of DRC to restore lasting peace and security throughout the country , and assists in the development of its IT capabilities, which are essential to the modernization of the country’s Army and governance, under the framework of “Peace and Security” . The EU is also supporting a digital E-governance system to allow possible ideal connection and communication between decisions makers, officials managers and leaders in the rural areas of DRC .
The DRC is exposed to conflict, violence and many natural disasters, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods and droughts . The country ranked 7th out of 178 countries on the 2017 Fragile States Index, placing it in the highest risk category and reflecting ongoing widespread conflict and insecurity . The UN estimates that there are approximately 2.3 million internally displaced persons and refugees in the DRC, and 323,000 DRC nationals living in refugee camps outside the country . Worsening socio-economic conditions, political instability and civil war are contributing to the increase in this migration. Insecurity persists in the east of the country and continues to cause loss of life and limit development efforts .
The country is also prone to recurrent epidemics such as cholera, measles, and Ebola. To date, the DRC has recorded 12 outbreaks of Ebola . The EU has made a significant contribution to respond to the Ebola epidemics through a range of measures, ranging from prevention measures to research funding, and has provided over 100 million euros for humanitarian and development actions since August 2018 .
The Government of the DRC continues to develop policies and institutional strategies to improve its environment, efforts to adapt to climate change, and to support the country’s development . The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD) is the government institution responsible for the promotion, supervision and coordination of all activities relating to the environment in the DRC. The Ministry oversees the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) as its institution responsible for the management of protected areas in the DRC.
The National Strategic Plan for Development (PNSD) is the overarching development strategy of the country. Articulated into three phases, its vision is for the country to progressively reach the status of developed economy by 2050. Environmental protection and climate change adaptation constitute one of the seven strategic objectives of the PNSD.
The DRC faces many environmental challenges, including the effects of climate change, land degradation, and the loss or degradation of natural resources (forests, biodiversity, peatlands, soils and quality of water resources) . Law No. 14/003 on Protection of the Nature is the framework law promulgated to support government strategies for nature conservation in the country. The Environment Protection Law (2011) promotes mainstreaming of environmental and sustainable development issues into all policies, plans and programs across all relevant sectors, and includes an obligation to adopt and implement national measures for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and disaster management . The DRC has taken an important step towards the sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems by implementing these laws . However, the capacity of the DRC to engage in biodiversity and ecosystems, and enforcement of environmental laws is challenged by the country’s political instability, conflict uprisings, weak institutions and extreme poverty .
The EU Green Deal is a key priority of EU cooperation with partner countries. “In the DRC however, there can be no development and sustainable growth without a more peaceful environment” (Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships) . Therefore, the EU’s contribution to the DRC is based on strong support for the country’s political, economic and commercial development within the framework of the Cotonou Agreement .
Respect for human rights, democratic principles, good governance, and the rule of law are key elements of partnership between the EU and the DRC. Implementation of cooperation projects is shared between the Head of Delegation, the National Authorizing Officer, and the DRC’s Ministry of Finance, whose support is essential for the launch of all projects financed by the European Development Fund (EDF) .
Previously in DRC, the EDF has focused on rural development, support for the private sector, regional development, health, transport, human rights, social sectors, and the rule of law. Most recently, the 10th EDF for the 2008-2013 period (736 million euros) focused on governance, infrastructure and health , and the 11th EDF for the 2014-2020 period (620 million euros) focused on health, environment and sustainable agriculture, strengthening governance and transport .
In 2021, the EU allocated more than 59 million euros for humanitarian actions, including funding to fight famine and strengthen food security, and to help people affected by violence and displacement, acute malnutrition and epidemics . In the face of the additional challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU continued to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance for people in need and also support the coronavirus response in terms of prevention and control measures, and access to quality health care, water, sanitation and hygiene . According to the UN Humanitarian Response Plan 2021 for the DRC, more than 1.5 billion euros are needed to meet the needs of vulnerable people in the country .
Climate change poses a huge threat to the people of the DRC who are already grappling with multiple challenges posed by years of chronic socio-political conflict, widespread poverty and continued environmental degradation . The country is already experiencing impacts such as persistent heat waves, land degradation, flooding and increasingly erratic rainfall , which will only worsen over the coming decades as temperature rises. In addition, most of DRC’s economic sectors are highly climate sensitive, such as agriculture, trade and hydropower. Agriculture is the main source of income for 95% of DRC’s population and continues to be almost exclusively rain-fed . Excess rainfall is expected to be greatest in central areas of the country, with increased aridity and droughts forecast for southern areas, hence harvests will be unreliable which will threaten food security and social development among the poor and vulnerable communities .
Heavy rainfall is also expected to lead to flooding, causing riverbank erosion and overflows, landslides, and waterlogging. Heavy rains in January 2018 caused severe flooding, landslides and silting in nine communes of Kinshasa, affecting more than 15,700 people and claiming 51 lives . Vulnerability to these hazards threaten the economic and political stability and long-term fiscal sustainability of the DRC, especially for low-income populations, who tend to reside in more hazard-prone locations. The approximately 660,000 indigenous peoples of the DRC are spread over almost all the provinces where they traditionally live from hunting, gathering, fishing and pastoralism. According to studies conducted as part of the preparedness programme, drought and heat waves will continue to cause poverty among these communities .
Increases in temperature and episodes of more intense rainfall are also likely to impact the spread of waterborne diseases and emerging infectious diseases in DRC .
The DRC is very rich in biodiversity which provides important goods and services to support the national economy and the livelihoods of the population. The country’s landscape is dominated by the second largest area of tropical rainforest in the world, which stores 8% of the world’s forest carbon . The products and services provided by biodiversity contribute significantly to the well-being of the Congolese population. To take only the case of the forest, the vast majority of the Congolese rural population depends on it as a source of extracted products (wood, charcoal, palm oil), as well as habitat for the fauna which attracts tourists .
However, biodiversity in the DRC is threatened by deforestation, habitat degradation, poaching, uncontrolled fishing and mining, agriculture and land use change. The loss of biodiversity constitutes a major challenge for DRC’s development. In particular, it is associated with challenges for food security, energy security, and poverty reduction .
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