Sustainability of Congo

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Congo

In October of 2011, a study was conducted on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as one of the major Post-Conflict Assessments of Congo. The study showed some alarming trends including increased deforestation, species depletion, heavy metal pollution and land degradation from mining, as well as an acute drinking water (UNEP). This water crisis has left an estimated 51 million Congolese without access to potable water. The most troubling aspect in the crisis, is that Congo contains half of Africa’s water and forest resources.

However, the study did find some good news- Most of Congo’s environmental degradation is not irreversible. Additionally there has been substantial progress in strengthening the environmental governance (UNEP). For example, through regular anti-poaching patrols, the Congolese Wildlife Authority has been able to secure national parks, resulting in less poaching and illegal fuelwood harvesting.

A summary of the study,courtesy of UNEP, including the key findings are listed below.

  • The DRC has the highest level of biodiversity in Africa, yet 190 species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Elephants and mountain gorillas are among the species under threat.
  • Up to 1.7 million tonnes of bushmeat (mainly antelope, duiker, monkey and wild boar) are harvested annually from unregulated hunting and poaching, contributing to species depletion.
  • The DRC’s tropical rainforests extend over 1.55 million km2 and account for more than half of Africa’s forest resources – making them a critical global ecosystem service provider and a potential source of up to US$900 million in annual revenue up to 2030 through REDD+.
  • The DRC has the largest artisanal mining workforce in the world – around two million people – but a lack of controls have led to land degradation and pollution. Its untapped mineral reserves are of global importance and are estimated to be worth US$24 trillion.
  • Around 15 tonnes of mercury are used annually in the DRC’s artisanal gold mining operations, making it the second largest source of mercury emissions in Africa.
  • The Congo basin supports Africa’s largest inland fisheries with an estimated production potential of 520,000 tonnes per year. While at the national level this resource is under-exploited, there are many instances of serious over-fishing pressures at the local level.
  • The most alarming climate change-related issue is the vulnerability of rain-fed small-scale agriculture. For example, as of 2020, the duration of the rainy season in the drought-prone region of Katanga is expected to reduce from seven months to five months.
  • There is a remarkable rise of ‘people-based’ social enterprises, most of which rely on natural resources. Yet with a fragile banking system and limited incentives to formalize transactions, the informal sector’s growth has become a critical structural problem as businesses can operate beyond environmental and labour laws.
  • As it is still emerging from a long period of State decline and protracted crisis, the provision of basic services, including energy and water supply, and environmental problems in urban centres remain key challenges for the DRC.
  • To support the DRC’s development challenges, a doubling of aid is urgently needed, including an estimated US$200 million per annum for the environment.

More recently, due to the country’s rapidly growing population, violent conflict and poverty, more and more citizens of Congo are relying on natural resources for their survival. As mentioned in an earlier post, international competition for the mineral rich country is rising, inducing intensity and pressure on Congo’s natural resource base.

The study also provided Congo with several recommendations in order to help protect their land and environment. The suggestions from the UNEP report are below.

  • Engaging in a ‘green economy’ transition whereby sustainable reconstruction in the DRC includes capitalizing on the DRC’s emerging social economy to generate ‘green jobs’ and other employment, including for former combatants.
  • Diversifying energy sources as a basis for restarting economic activity. The DRC has a hydropower potential of 100,000 megawatts – or 13% of the world’s hydropower potential – which could meet domestic needs and generate export revenue from the sale of electricity.
  • Overcoming the considerable environmental liabilities of a century of mining – with immediate action to remediate mining pollution ‘hotspots’ in Katanga – by introducing a new, modern mining approach and formalizing the artisanal mining sector to introduce better environmental and occupational health standards.
  • Promote trans-boundary collaboration for sustainable fisheries management in the internationally shared Great Rift Valley Lakes.
  • Strengthening institutional capacities for disaster preparedness – such as epidemics, volcanic eruptions, floods and forest fires – including early warning systems.
  • More detailed surveying and mapping of natural resources and integrating the economic valuation of ecosystem services into all development planning.
The DRC has half of Africa's forest and water resources.

The DRC has half of Africa’s forest and water resources.

To see a rank of countries by electricity consumption, click here.


United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)



  1. benschwenker says:

    After reading this post about the study in October 2011 by the UNEP, I feel that I’ve learned more about the repercussions of conflicts occurring in the Congo. As I read more and more about the issues, it makes me glad the the UNEP has made an effort to resolve and alleviate the environmental footprints left in the Congo. I look forward to learn more about what the UNEP does for the African republic. I think it’s also great that the country is determined to enhance social capital from the ‘green’ push as it seems to be providing for employment opportunities. I also believe that the country will benefit as they continue to explore ways to be prepared for unexpected disasters. With all that said, I wonder if there’s anything else that the United States can assist the Congo with in regard to aiding sustainable practices?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s