Air, soil and water pollution are major environmental problems in DRC.

Outdoor annual PM2.5 levels in DRC can reach well above the WHO Air Quality Guideline, especially in urban centers such as the mega-city of Kinshasa, which is home to more than 11 million people [1]. The majority of DRC’s population is also regularly exposed to dangerous levels of indoor air pollution since more than 90% of the population uses wood biomass for cooking. Both ambient and household air pollution cause an estimate of around 32,000 deaths annually in DRC.

High rates of water pollution represent a significant public health burden in the DRC. Malaria is one of the main causes of morbidity and mortality in the country and it is expected to spread in terms of seasonality and geography. In existing malaria-prone areas, malaria cases are projected to triple by mid-century, with an additional 65,000–80,000 people in DRC expected to be at risk [2].

The DRC the second largest source of mercury emissions in Africa [3]. About 15,000 kg of mercury are used each year in artisanal gold mining and coal combustion operations in DRC, exacerbating the problem of pollution in the country.


Contributors to environmental pollution in the DRC include mining, waste, mineral processing, forestry, energy, agriculture, and land use [4]. The use of wood and charcoal for cooking is a major source of indoor air pollution and contributes to the high indoor PM10 and PM2.5 levels in the DRC. Agricultural and mining activities, as well as poor land and wastewater management are the main polluters of the country's water bodies. The destruction of forests, especially when they are cleared by fire, also causes significant environmental pollution.

Researchers at the Congo Basin Water Resources Research Center (CRREBaC) are also concerned by cross-border pollution. In early August 2021, toxic substances from three diamond processing facilities in neighboring Angola polluted the Kasai River, a major tributary of Congo [5]. As a result, there could be severe and potential lasting contamination of groundwater with consequences for the health of people in affected areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo [5].


Key policies and governance approach

The DRC's efforts to combat environmental pollution include the adoption of laws and regulations. The Environmental Protection Law (2011) defines the major guidelines for the protection of the environment. The objective pursued was to prevent risks and fight against all forms of pollution and nuisances. This law also serves as a basis for specific legislation governing the management of sectors that are certainly distinct from the environment but whose direct or indirect impact are undeniable [6].

Subsequently, a number of provisions have been undertaken or amended to comply with environmental and social principles [6]. Promulgated in 2018, the mining code was introduced by law n° 18/001 and modifies, rather than replaces, the former mining code which was introduced at the end of the country's long civil war in 2002 [7]. The new mining code corrects the shortcomings of the old code, in particular the lack of standard specifications setting out socio-environmental obligations for mining operators regarding local communities [6].

In 2017, the DRC also joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. The country is now striving to meet its international environmental commitments, including the implementation of the Montreal Protocol country program which aims to reduce and eliminate substances that deplete the ozone layer (Athys Kabongo Kalongi, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of the DRC) [1].  


Successes and Remaining Challenges

The protection of the environment in the DRC remains a challenging issue, due to the country's long history of conflict and weak institutions. In addition, the implementation and enforcement of the existing legal and regulatory framework pertaining to the environment remains a complex process [3], [8].

The challenges related to the management of the environment, the implementation and the enforcement of the legal instruments within the country should attract the urgent attention of the international community [8]. According to the UNEP post-conflict environmental assessment report, aid was estimated at US $200 million needed to support the development challenges of the DRC, including on the environment [3].


Initiatives and Development Plans

A project was recently validated by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to build an organic waste recycling plant in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. The project is being developed by Biocrude Technologies, a Canadian company specializing in the sanitation and the provision of solutions for the treatment of municipal organic waste. The objective is to fight against soil and water pollution. The city of Kinshasa alone produces 9,000 tons of solid waste per day [9], [10].


Goals and Ambitions

Given the significant public health burden of environmental pollution in the DRC. Air and water quality and improved sanitation should be essential elements in promoting public health in the country.

  • There is a lack of monitoring studies on pollution in the country. The country's systems for monitoring pollution and changes in natural resources linked to changes in air and water quality should be supported.
  • Introduction of modern mining approach and formalizing the artisanal mining sector to introduce better environmental and occupational health standards is recommended [3].
  • Impacts from water and air pollution and vector-borne diseases are areas for concern in DRC. These impacts require not only continued investment, but also full integration of environmental protection and climate change into the DRC’s policies and plans.