Insecurity exacerbates the malnutrition crisis in eastern DRC

Published: May 9, 2023 Reading time: 4 minutes
Activités de consultation postnatale au centre de santé et demonsatration culinaire
© Foto: Neville Bukize

For two decades, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been facing a worrying nutritional situation. More than two out of every five children in the DRC suffer from chronic malnutrition, which is about six million children in total. It causes the prevalence of stunting, which characterizes structural difficulties and has devastating consequences on the cognitive development of children. With more than 40 % of children affected by malnutrition, the country's human capital and economic productivity are significantly impaired.

Child malnutrition remains a significant public health concern in the DRC, with acute malnutrition rates stuck at 6.5 % for over two decades. Severe acute malnutrition affects around two million children aged 6 to 59 months, increasing their mortality risk by 4 - 9 times. Additionally, 23.1 % of children under the age of 5 years old are underweight and suffer from severe malnutrition throughout their time at school.

Improving complementary feeding for children aged 6 to 23 months is vital. Only 34 % of these children meet the minimum meal frequency, and a mere 15 % have a diversified diet, according to the 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS). At this time, exclusive breastfeeding is practiced by only 54 % of all women. Unfortunately, almost half of the children under 6 months of age are at high risk of malnutritioneither due to receiving other foods alongside breast milk or by simply not receiving breast milk at all.

The province of South Kivu is particularly affected, with approximately 48 % of children suffering from malnutrition. Several factors contribute to this issue, including extreme poverty, early weaning practices, frequent population displacements due to insecurity, abandonment of agricultural activities, and the sale of cultivated products for generating income.

“We fled the clashes in the highlands of Bijombo. I walked for four days with my five children. We spent the nights in the bush, my house was burned, and my livestock was taken away by the rebels while fleeing. My husband was captured and to this day he still hasn’t returned to us,” explains Adela Baleke, a 28-year-old mother.

The eastern part of DRC is facing a complex humanitarian situation, marked by the presence of active armed groups, inter-community tensions, epidemics, natural disasters, and chronic poverty. These challenges severely limit many families and leave them struggling to meet their basic needs and causing a detrimental effect on the health of an already vulnerable population. Among those most affected by malnutrition are children between 0 and 5 years old, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, who have increased nutritional requirements.

“My children and I live in a host family here in the health area of Katala. Finding food is very difficult. Only our children are able to eat once a day, and adults have to manage not eating somehow. Because of this situation, my children have begun to lose a lot of weight and the skin and hair of my 1-year-old baby has begun to change color. After the screening by the sensitizers of PIN, I was told that my child was suffering from malnutrition,” says Adela.

In addition to providing direct care for malnourished individuals and strengthening the capacities of medical staff in treating acute malnutrition, we also engage in community sensitization activities. Using community radio programs and local agents, we promote behaviour changes within families. We organize cooking demonstrations in villages to teach mothers how to prepare nutritious meals using locally available ingredients.

“After the integration of my child in the malnutrition treatment program, I participated in the cooking demonstration session where I learned how to make porridge very rich in vitamins and minerals for my family. I learned a lot and I hope I can share what I’ve learned with my family and with my community and reduce malnutrition by using locally-sourced ingredients,” added Adela.

Thanks to financial support from the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), we at PIN have been able to actively work to combat malnutrition in the Nyangezi and Lemera health zones. Through our multisectoral project focused on Nutrition, Cash, and WASH, we aim to reduce the impact that armed conflict has on vulnerable members of the population and ensure that they have access to necessary humanitarian assistance. 

Autor: Zawadi Izabayo

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