During the course of my dissertation and a book chapter on hunger in Africa, I noticed a very surprising trend (that I'm writing up for a short policy paper for a journal). We're accustomed to hearing that all of Africa is going down to the toilet as fast as inhumanly possible. The hunger statistics (1990-2004) seem to agree: the number of hungry people is going down rapidly in Asia, slowly in most of the rest of the world, but is rising in Africa.
When I disaggregated Africa into its constituent countries, however, I was shocked to learn that nearly all the increase comes from just one country: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire). If you remove the DR Congo from the data, the rest of Africa had not seen any noticeable increase in hunger for over a decade! In fact, the vast majority of countries have seen no change, with only a few (DR Congo and Tanania on the downside, Ethiopia and Ghana on the upside) moving appreciably.
This is tremendous news. The situation is not as desperate as we are led to believe. There is hope in a lot of places.
It also means there is a great need for help in the DR Congo to slow and stop the problems there. The #1 problem stems from the war that has been ragining on and off there for over a decade: The First Congolese War in the mid-1990s, the Second one a few years later which has been compared to the Africa World War. Wiki reports that "Today at the dawn of 2009, people in the Congo are still dying at a rate of an estimated 45,000 per month and already 2,700,000 people have died since 2004. This death toll is due to widespread disease and famine; reports indicate that almost half of the individuals killed are children under the age of 5." There is little that the average person can do about the war and refugees.
But there are many other things that a person can do. Imagine my joy today when I was visiting the Church Newsroom to see the DR Congo listed fairly prominently!
I've known the Church was active building wells in scattered villages in Africa, training the locals how to care for it, and doing all they can to help people help themselves through humanitarian service missionaries. I didn't realize that the large project I read about last year and on the 30-minute between-Conference session news segments (Luputa) was in the DR Congo! These people live so far away from a clean water source, it requires a 5 hour trip to collect water, including balancing the plastic and ceramic containers the entire way back. The water will be sent out to some 160,000 people, improving health and enabling children to go to school instead of to collect water.
The Church has also partnered with an NBA star who is building a rather large well for a hospital he started in Kinshasa (the capital) that does not have a reliable supply of clean water. The well will also allow the hospital to establish a dialysis unit.
I just see these stories and think, Yeah! That's where my humanitarian donations on the tithing slips are going. How thankful I am that the Church is reaching out to the DR Congo.