Action Against Hunger’s Community-Based Programs in D.R. Congo

A decades long cycle of crises continues to threaten Congo, leaving populations vulnerable to chronic hunger and malnutrition. What is ACF doing to help?
IDPs in the Eastern D.R. Congo, courtesy

While the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) has drawn attention to this sprawling Central African country, this is only the latest chapter in a cycle of crises that started during the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko, Congo/Zaire’s president from 1965 to 1997 and continued after his fall.

The recurring troubles have left much of the country’s population vulnerable to food insecurity and malnutrition. Action Against Hunger has worked in the DRC since 1996, treating and preventing the acute malnutrition that often follows conflicts, natural disasters and economic collapse. Our goal is to fight against malnutrition as well by tackling its root causes and by restoring, maintaining, or creating the means of livelihood for thousands of vulnerable people. In all, our programs benefit 700,000 people throughout the DRC.

Diverse Programming

The conflict-affected communities in the DRC’s east have the most acute need for relief assistance. However, through nutritional surveys and other types of surveillance, Action Against Hunger has discovered that serious nutritional crises are also occurring in stable areas, and we have established operations in these provinces as well. We are currently working in seven out of eleven Congolese provinces.

In areas of acute nutritional crisis, the feeding centers supported by Action Against Hunger provide life-saving treatment through in-patient and community-based therapeutic feeding approach. In paralell to the treatment of malnutrition, we implement integrated food security and nutrition prevention programs that address the root causes of malnutrition, to improve the food security of the populations and prevent from relapsing.

Our food security programs provide support, training, and supplies to help people recover from unexpected shocks and chronic deprivation that may have wiped out seed supplies, livestock, or other means of livelihood. Our teams provide assistance to allow families and communities to attain self-sufficiency. Our water and sanitation programs help communities rehabilitate and install safe drinking water systems—including wells or boreholes—as well as basic sanitation infrastructure while providing hygiene and environmental education.

Our teams are as well trained for emergency water intervention in case of cholera outbreaks, and in addition, ACF has developed an emergency nutrition team that stands ready to respond to emerging crises, which is currently working in three provinces.

The area of Minova, in South Kivu province, provides a good example of our multi-faceted approach. The community is facing simultaneous issues, including an influx of displaced people from the province of North Kivu, a cholera epidemic, and an outbreak of Wilt disease that is affecting the banana crop. ACF has implemented a diverse array of interventions, including treatment for malnutrition as well as projects in agriculture, and emergency and sustainable water and sanitation response.

Community Participation

Community involvement is key to the success of ACF’s programs. The communities participate in the programs from the needs identification, to the project design, the selection of the beneficiaries and the physical implementation of the program. The communities participate as well in sessions of training in link with the activities undertaken.

ACF helps creating, trains and works with local committees for water or sanitation infrastructures, school committees, nutrition committees, and farmers groups. The capacity building of community-based organizations is an important element for the ownership and the continuation of the projects after ACF’s departure.

Capacity Building

To further ensure the sustainability of our programs and improved nutrition throughout the country, ACF is reinforcing the capacities and skills of both national and local Ministry of Health officials throughout the DRC.

The support to the National Nutrition Programme of the Ministry of Health promotes the national nutrition protocols and the nutritional surveillance of the country.

At local level, the nutrition programs are implemented with the Health Zones and include trainings of the health staff.

As the crisis in the eastern part of the DRC continues, Action Against Hunger staff is responding through an emergency water and sanitation program at the border between North and South Kivu, and a nutrition intervention in the same area, in favor of the displaced populations and their hosting communities.