Multidimensional Poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo

25 June 2014

Malokele Nanivazo

After a long series of conflicts and apparent macroeconomic mismanagement, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) seems to be breaking from its thorny history. It is implementing a series of economic and political reforms aimed at improving its weak institutions and ameliorating the business climate to stimulate economic growth and development. As a result, the DRC is on a  path of economic recovery, with an average annual growth rate of 6.2 per cent in the last decade. Despite this economic turnaround, the majority of the DRC’s population still live in precarious conditions. However, this high growth has not translated into poverty reduction for the large majority of Congolese people. Most socioeconomic indicators suggest a lack of progress, and in some instances, a deterioration in the population’s welfare. 

In two WIDER working papers (one published and a second forthcoming), we undertake a ranking of the 11 provinces of the DRC to compare their levels of multidimensional poverty—that is severe deprivation of basic human needs, and lack of capabilities affecting a person’s wellbeing within the population, using information available at the household level. The overall goal of these studies is to shed light on the welfare of the Congolese population, particularly children and women (forthcoming). This is done by looking at the prevalence of poverty through seven deprivation indicators: health, education, water, shelter, information, sanitation, and food. We adapt the definition of these deprivation indicators to capture the sample characteristics, i.e. in the first study we divide the variable for children into three age groups: 0-5, 6-17, and 0-17 years. In the study focusing on women’s multidimensional poverty there are two variables: not married and married. The results of our analysis provide strong evidence of heterogeneity and disparity in child and women’s poverty among the provinces. Overall, the results of the two studies have several policy implications for DRC’s policy makers as the country is recovering from two decades of civil war and is moving toward reconstruction.

The prevalence and geographical distribution of multidimensional poverty

Nationally, almost half of children aged between 6 and 17 years are deprived (poor) in five key indicators: water, sanitation, shelter, information, and health. Focusing on education deprivation, the data reveals that nearly a quarter of children aged between 6 and 17 are education deprived, in that they have never been to primary nor secondary school and were not attending school in 2007. The situation with education is worst for female children living in the rural areas.

The national average of children under 5 who are deprived on at least one dimension varies between 50 per cent, who are suffering from food deprivation, to over 80 per cent, who are experiencing shelter deprivation. Female children under 5 years old are less food deprived than male children, this difference being most pronounced in rural areas.

At the provincial level, 31 per cent of children living in the capital province of Kinshasa are not deprived, that is non-poor, in four of the seven deprivation indicators (water, sanitation, shelter, and health). This contrasts with the provinces of Bandundu, Équateur, Maniema, and Kasai-Occidental, where the percentage of non-poor children is zero.

Similarly to the study for children, the study for women also exhibits heterogeneity in women’s welfare across sub-samples, provinces, and areas. In 2007, over 70 per cent of unmarried women living in urban areas were not education deprived and were literate, compared to 32 per cent in rural areas. Nearly 40 per cent of married women slept under a mosquito net—i.e. were not health deprived—versus 34 per cent of unmarried women.

The research clearly indicates that women and children living in Kinshasa are better off than those living anywhere else in the DRC. This result is robust and consistent across the various samples. The worst region in terms of multidimensional poverty for both women and children was Kasai-Occidental.

Surprisingly, South Kivu and Maniema are found to have relatively low levels of depravation in both the children’s study and women’s study. These two provinces have a welfare achievement greater than that of Katanga, Bas-Congo, Bandundu, and Equateur, respectively. This result is intriguing because these provinces, especially South Kivu, have been the main battlefields during the two civil wars. The question naturally is: how have these two provinces been able to maintain this level of wellbeing? We suspect that foreign aid might have played a substantial role. In fact, in the period 2002-12, the DRC was the second largest recipient of foreign aid globally. However, further research is required to ascertain this claim.

Policy implications of the research

These results may be of great relevance for reallocating resources among the provinces, and for drawing up more efficient strategies for poverty reduction. With the results ranking the provinces of Kasai-Occidental, Kasai-Oriental, and Équateur as the three poorest provinces, a flow of resources from better off provinces such as Kinshasa to these provinces should lead to welfare improvements.

Resources reallocation may take various forms including financial, knowledge transfer, capacity-building, increased partnerships between regions, social transfers, etc. These can contribute to increasing school enrolment and building up human capital to break the poverty cycle. Food deprivation can be tackled by increasing food security; mothers’ participation in seminars and training on feeding and hygiene; facilitating women’s access to productive assets, etc. These can strengthen women’s bargaining power and control over household resources.

Malokele Nanivazo is a Research Fellow at UNU-WIDER

WIDERAngle newsletter
June-July 2014
ISSN 1238-9544