How COVID-19 Has Affected DR Congo Residents: UK-Based Catholic Aid Agency

Supported by CAFOD, the Olame Centre women's group in the DR Congo are making detergent and soap to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Credit: Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD)

The leadership of the development and humanitarian arm of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) has, in a report explained how COVID-19 has affected people living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Central African nation has recorded at least 9,538 COVID-19 cases, 8,421 recoveries and 225 related deaths.

“Imagine living in a country where everything is imported from outside, now, there is nothing coming in,” CAFOD’s Country Director in DRC, Bernard Balibuno has been quoted as saying in a report published Thursday, August 13.

The official continues in reference to the situation in DRC “where people live on a daily basis so the women or the men need to go out and earn one dollar or two dollars to eat that day.”

Imagine living “in a country where the markets need to open every day so people can survive; in a country where you need to pay for your healthcare in cash,” Mr. Balibuno says about DRC and adds, “We are seeing some very, very serious poverty issues here.”

“Yes, coronavirus is killing people, but the consequences of coronavirus will even kill more people,” he says.

According to the official who has served in his current position for seven years, COVID-19 has exacerbated the suffering of the Congolese people who were already grappling with various challenges such as violence, displacements and famine.

“This country has been a country with turmoil and a lot of rebel movements and that has caused a lot of displacement for many years,” CAFOD Director in DRC says and indicates that violence in the Central African nation has led to the displacement of at least five million people in the East of the country where locals “can't do their daily shop; they can’t go to their farms without risking rape or other violence.”

“Our heart goes to those who are very, very vulnerable in displacement camps at this particular point. Those who are in host families. How about the displaced family that are in Beni right now?” he says and probes in the August 13 report.

Besides the violence and displacement, Mr. Balibuno says, “we’ve had famine, natural catastrophes, environmental issues and fighting between tribes. So, all over the country there are a lot of problems, and that is causing the lives of normal Congolese to become even harder.”

With the coming of COVID-19, Mr. Balibuno who is a Congolese says, “we are living in a very different world again right now, where the government has been locking down some areas, closing schools, closing travel.”

There has been some resistance to the initiatives towards preventing the spread of COVID-19 from local communities, the CAFOD official says, a challenge that the international humanitarian agency faced while combating the Ebola outbreak in the country.

“But the good news is that the Church has been involved. Our goal and our objective as an organization has been to ensure that faith organizations are involved very early on. The Church is sensitizing people to coronavirus, helping alongside the government,” the 50-year-old CAFOD official says.

He adds in reference to how local communities relate with Church leaders, “They trust them as their faith leaders. The faith leaders use the language people in that particular community understand and they know. This turned everything around.”

Amid the various challenges, the leadership of the London-based aid agency is offering humanitarian relief as well as supporting COVID-19 sensitization efforts in the country, which is Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest nation.

“We have repurposed some of the funding we had for long-term development to put into coronavirus response and we are supplying food to close to 2,000 households in six communes here in Kinshasa. And we plan to extend this project to further communes,” Mr. Balibuno says in the August 13 report.

The leadership of the agency in the country is also involving young people in the sensitization campaigns on COVID-19, a partnership the CAFOD official says was inspired by a similar successful engagement during the Ebola pandemic.

Additionally, CAFOD officials are also using the network of Catholic radios in the country to pass COVID-19 information, the Country Director says.

“We ask for our supporters to continue praying for us so that we can go through this difficult situation; but we need not only prayers at this particular point in this country, we also need support, any support that can come,” Mr. Balibuno has appealed.


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