Like many countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is struggling with intertwined disasters right now: COVID-19 and environmental damage. Pastor Muller Ndunzi is the provincial representative of the community of Mennonite Brethren churches in Kinshasa, DRC. He is also a university professor and a doctoral student. Below, Pastor Ndunzi describes the view from Kinshasa, the capital city. In his view, the pandemic is a symptom of the failure to care for the earth.
Humanity is facing a health crisis unprecedented since the end of World War II in 1945. The world has ceased to function and panic and fear of death have invaded everyone’s hearts. All states of the world are affected and different governments have adopted strategies and barrier measures to prevent the rapid spread of the epidemic. But despite this, the pandemic continues to claim victims in Europe, America, Asia, Oceania and Africa.
Although Africa is the continent least affected by the pandemic, the socio-economic and environmental consequences are disastrous. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the measures taken by the government to fight against COVID-19 are producing adverse effects on the economy, social life and the health of populations. The country is on the verge of rupture and collapse. The government faces several challenges to prevent the country from sinking into chaos.
This reflection covers the environmental situation and the health situation in the DRC. It also looks at the relationship between the environment and COVID-19, the consequences of environmental degradation on health and sustainable development and possible solutions or recommendations.
The environmental situation
The environmental situation in the DRC is dire. The degradation of creation is a major challenge for this country, namely: large-scale deforestation, conservation of protected areas, pollution due to poor waste management, non-compliance with environmental standards, land degradation, unsanitary conditions in large cities, anarchic urbanization, the destruction of natural spaces, the fight against erosion and the extinction of species.
This alarming situation is seen in all the provinces of the country, from north to south and from west to east. The main cause of this situation remains the quest for wealth and the satisfaction of human needs. In any case, if drastic measures are not taken at the government level, the world in general and the Congolese in particular will regret having lost a paradise.
In Kinshasa, the country’s capital, the environmental situation is very worrying. Medical sources report that 80% of illnesses are linked to environmental degradation and unhealthy conditions, while the Kinshasa City Hall places the percentage even higher, at 88% . Malaria, typhoid fever, acute respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases are just a few of the illnesses made worse by poor environmental conditions.
Kinshasa, whose population is around 12 million inhabitants, looks like a devastated and unsanitary city. The successive governments have so far failed to restore the image of this city which was once considered the most beautiful of all the cities south of the Sahara. It is in this context that Covid 19 emerged.
The Covid 19 epidemiological situation in the DRC
As of August 18, 2020, there were 9,638 cases of COVID-19 in the DRC, including 239 confirmed deaths. At that time, 17 of the 26 provinces in the country were affected. The city of Kinshasa remains the epicenter of the pandemic in the DRC. It is not yet clear why fewer Congolese have died of COVID-19 than they have in other parts of the world. Explanations include the youth of the population, the hot climate and previous exposure to tropical diseases such as malaria. Traditional medicinal plants may have also contributed to the fight against this disease. The markets and streets of Kinshasa were transformed into pharmaceutical depots selling traditional medicinal plants to fight against this pandemic. Scientists will tell us later if taking these plants has played a role in preventing and curing COVID-19.
One would expect the pandemic to have claimed many lives in Kinshasa given the unhealthy conditions that its residents experience. But luckily, so far, the worst has not happened. The hand of God still guards Africa in general and the DRC in particular against this deadly disease.
The consequences of COVID-19 on Congolese populations
Nevertheless, the global pandemic has had negative consequences in all areas of national and community life.
At the national level:
- The slowdown in economic activity has already affected the national budget;
- The deterioration of living conditions;
- The very high mortality rate in the city of Kinshasa;
- The change in the practices of funeral rites in some cities because the dead are taken directly to the cemetery as soon as they leave the morgue.
- A cooling down of faith and fraternal communion among some Congolese Mennonite communities;
The positive consequences of this pandemic are:
- The use of modern means of communication, especially social networks, for teaching and building the faith of the faithful.
- The strengthening of house churches and prayer cells;
- The barrier measures taken to fight the pandemic have aroused and reinforced collective and individual awareness of our role in protecting the environment, our living space and our bodies;
- COVID-19 has taught humanity to constantly return to the fundamentals of human life, namely hygiene, the body and the health of those around it.
On a spiritual level, this disease has taught humankind the following:
- The sovereignty and power of God;
- The frailty of human beings;
- The equality of human beings, as we all share the same destiny. Both the wealthy and the poor are powerless in the face of death;
- The speed with which the world can be destroyed suggests that the return of Christ and the end of the world taught in the scriptures are not myths.
- It is vanity to rely on military or economic power. Only faith in God can help people truly overcome trials.
Consequences of environmental degradation
Meanwhile, the degradation of creation has also had a dramatic effect on human health and sustainable development in the DRC
- Deforestation has caused landslides in several provinces of the country;
- The spread of certain species creates an ecological and environmental imbalance;
- Urbanization leads to erosion in all cities of the country;
- Unsanitary conditions result in many diseases;
- The deforestation of Congolese savannas exposes the population to multiple dangers.
In short, the Congolese populations of today exploit the wealth of the country and expose themselves to multiple dangers without taking future generations into account.
- The international community is called upon to support the efforts of the Congolese government in the protection of the 2nd equatorial forest in the world after the Amazon in Brazil because the future of all humanity depends on it.
- At the national level, the government must make the fight against environmental degradation its workhorse. Colossal resources must be mobilized to fight against this degradation.
- Regionally, natural resources must be treasured and emphasized if we believe in the transformation of this country in the near future. The DRC has a varied, diverse and very rich environment, which can generate wealth for present and future generations. Its flora and fauna are sufficient to develop this country if cared for.
- Courses in environmental management and sustainable development must be present in curriculum at all levels.
- At the ecclesial level, the leaders of Christian communities must teach, sensitize and mobilize members in the fight against environmental degradation;
- This training should begin in families and continue through to university levels.
The COVID-19 pandemic tells us that the future of humankind depends on our ability to manage the environment as the creator recommended in Genesis 2:15: “Cultivate and keep.” Otherwise, more devastating pandemics and other calamities will strike in the years or centuries to come.
This is why everyone has an obligation to fight against the degradation of creation that is happening on a planetary scale. The pandemic of the century teaches us to challenge ourselves regarding the divine obligation that Christians have to manage our bodies and our living spaces well. For one day, we will give an account to God of how we have put this recommendation into practice.