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Congolese woman sticking head out of moving railroad car en route to market.
Legacy of violence

Democratic Republic of Congo

The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to Congolese who are struggling to recover from decades of conflict, ongoing violence and widespread disease, including an outbreak of Ebola.

Country facts
  • Population: 82.7 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 4.5 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 135
IRC response
  • Started work in Congo: 1996
  • People assisted: 2.3 million
  • Target: 8.4 million

Congo crisis briefing

The Democratic Republic of Congo, located in Central Africa, has spent decades in the grip of violent conflict and economic unrest. The security situation in Congo severely deteriorated in 2017, leaving 1.7 million people newly displaced and 13.1 million in need of humanitarian assistance. The IRC helps vulnerable Congolese meet urgent needs and provides support to strengthen families and rebuild communities.

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What caused the current crisis in Congo?

Following years of economic and political decline, the war of 1998-2002 led to extreme violence, massive displacement and widespread rape in Congo. The conflict caused an estimated 5.4 million deaths. Most of those people perished from disease and malnutrition.

Despite peace agreements, slight economic progress, and improvements to education and health services, the country continues to struggle with recurrent crises affecting over 15 million people, which represents nearly 20% of the population. Between 2014 and 2016, Congo was hit by an Ebola outbreak that infected 28,000 people. 

In June 2016, President Joseph Kabila pushed to extend his mandate by postponing elections beyond the end of his term, triggering rebellion and unrest across parts of the country. At the end of December 2017, there were approximately 3.9 million internally displaced people. In conflict zones, people are extorted, kidnapped and forced to fight or work. Violence against women and girls is also widespread throughout the country.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Congo?

Congo remains one of the world’s least developed countries in terms of life expectancy, education and standard of living. Nearly 64% of the population lives in poverty and very few people earn living wages. Almost 70% of the population is engaged in subsistence farming, and farmers still lack the resources they need—such as tools and seeds—to make a living off of their work.

The health system is poorly staffed, organised, funded and supplied. Cholera and measles are prevalent and few people are vaccinated against preventable diseases. Mothers die in 13 out of every 1,000 deliveries, and many children die before their first birthday.

Sexual violence against women and girls is also a significant problem in Congo. Early marriage and pregnancy cause girls to drop out of school, making it harder for them to earn a living later in life. Many girls and boys do not attend school to begin with, and any instruction they do receive is often of poor quality.

How does the IRC help in Congo?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began working in Congo in 1996, providing emergency assistance and humanitarian aid to those affected by violence and uprooted from their homes. We also worked with local communities to help them rebuild and construct programs for education and health care.

As the country struggles to recover from decades of conflict and widespread disease, the IRC is focusing our efforts in Tanganyika, Kasai Central, and North and South Kivu by:

•    providing emergency health care, shelter, water, sanitation, and emergency supplies to hundreds of thousands of people in eastern and central Congo;

•    empowering communities to work together on peace-building projects aimed at conflict reduction and economic recovery;

•    training health and government workers, rehabilitating hospitals and clinics, and providing essential medicine;

•    providing counseling, medical care and legal assistance to survivors of sexual assault;

•    offering a range of reproductive health services to women and adolescent girls to enable safer childbirth and improved spacing between children; 

•    ensuring girls are enrolled and succeeding in Congo’s classrooms as well as through support with informal education, so they can take control of their futures.

What still needs to be done?

The IRC’s work in Congo is more critical than ever as millions struggle to recover from ongoing conflict and meet basic needs. We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by crisis, specifically women and girls, at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in health, safety, education and economic wellbeing. Here’s a closer look at some of the work we will be doing over the next few years to achieve our goals.

We will continue to support Congolese who have been forced from their homes by crisis, expanding our reach based on where the greatest need is and where we can create the biggest impact. We’ll also continue to help Congolese women and girls who have suffered from violence and struggled to rebuild their lives. 

IRC teams and partners expect to reach 8.4 million people by the year 2020, focusing on the following areas:


People should be protected from illness and receive medical treatment when they need it. Toward this outcome, we plan to ensure that women and girls are protected from and treated for the effects of violence.

The IRC will work to protect women and adolescent girls from unintended pregnancies by promoting best practices in contraception and family planning. We will also continue to promote training to reduce the risk of maternal and child mortality.


People should be safe in their homes and communities, and receive support when they experience harm. The IRC will strengthen our emergency response to address violence in schools and homes. We will also advocate for more services and support initiatives for survivors of violence and abuse.


School-aged children should have age-appropriate literacy, numeracy and social and emotional skills. We will reduce barriers for children to attend school through school rehabilitation, tutoring, financial assistance and infrastructure upgrades. Working with local government and communities, the IRC will enroll and keep vulnerable children in school.

Economic wellbeing

People should have the means to meet basic needs; they should have opportunities to earn an income and build their assets. To build communities’ long-term economic resilience, we will invest in business and vocational skills training and economic recovery projects. These projects will emphasise women’s empowerment as a means to reduce gender inequality.

As in all our efforts, the IRC will strive to reach more people more quickly, increase the effectiveness of our work, listen to the concerns of those affected by our work, and hold ourselves accountable for results.

Download the IRC's Congo strategy action plan to learn more about our programme priorities until 2020.

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