(June 2003) The civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly known as Zaire) is worsening already poor conditions for one of Africa’s largest and most disadvantaged populations. The crisis, which has involved local militias as well as armies from Uganda, Rwanda, and other countries in the region, represents ever-increasing social, economic, political, and ecological threats to the country.

Located at the center of the continent, the DRC, with its tropical forests and savannas, is one of Africa’s most biodiverse countries. It is also rich in mineral resources, including gold and diamonds. Yet despite this wealth, per capita annual income is among the lowest in the world — just US$110, compared with US$310 in neighboring Uganda and US$3,310 in South Africa, according to World Bank estimates. High population growth could intensify this poverty and increase the human impact on the natural resources.

Conflict poses a more immediate threat, however. Killings, rapes, population displacement, and the recruitment of child soldiers — some younger than 10 years old — have characterized the latest political instability and civil strife in a country where life expectancy at birth for girls and boys combined is still less than 50 years. The International Rescue Committee estimates that conflict has killed more than 3 million people in less than five years. The committee says this is the highest number of deaths recorded for a war anywhere in the world in the last 50 years. Also, the U.S. Committee for Refugees reports that the DRC alone accounted for more than 2.4 million uprooted people in 2002, the vast majority of them displaced within the country’s borders.

Some of the most vulnerable within the population are children, many of whom are not only witnesses to the violence but participants as well. The United Nations Children’s Fund reports that up to a third of the 30,000 fighters are children. Thousands of others have been killed or injured in the conflict or have died as a result of malnutrition and other preventable illnesses.

As with many countries in Africa, the DRC has a sizeable population of young people. Almost half the roughly 55 million people (43 percent) are under age 15, and only 4 percent are 65 years or older. With a total fertility rate of nearly 7 children per woman, one of the highest rates in the world, the DRC’s population is projected to increase to 105 million people by 2025.

Democratic Republic of Congo Data
Population Mid-2003 56,600,000
Rate of Natural Increase (birth rate minus death rate, expressed as a %) 3.1
Population 2025 (projected) 104,900,000
Population 2050 (projected) 181,300,000
Infant Mortality Rate (infant deaths per 1,000 live births) 102
Total Fertility Rate (average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime) 6.9
Population Under Age 15 (%) 43
Population Over Age 65 (%) 4
Life Expectancy at Birth, Both Sexes (years) 48
Life Expectancy at Birth, Males (years) 46
Life Expectancy at Birth, Females (years) 51
Urban Population (%) 29
Population Ages 15-49 with HIV/AIDS at End of 2001 (%) 4.9
Contraceptive Use Among Married Women 15-49, All Methods (%) 8
Contraceptive Use Among Married Women 15-49, Modern Methods (%) 2
Total Area (sq. miles) 905,351
Capital City Kinshasa
Maternal Deaths per 100,000 Live Births 940
Women Among Population 15-49 with HIV/AIDS (%) 55
Literacy Rate (ages 15+), 2000, Female (%) 50
Literacy Rate (ages 15+), 2000, Male (%) 73
Secondary School Enrollment, 1993-1997, Female (%) 19
Secondary School Enrollment, 1993-1997, Male (%) 32
Labor Force Participation (ages 15-64), 2000, Female (%) 63
Labor Force Participation (ages 15-64), 2000, Male (%) 85
Population Ages 10-24, 2000 16,400,000
Population Ages 10-24, 2025 32,800,000
Forest Area, Change in 1990-2000 (1,000 hectares) -5,324
Threatened and Endangered Animal Species (number) 116
Threatened and Endangered Plant Species (number) 55

Sources: Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: PRB, 2003); Justine Sass and Lori Ashford, 2002 Women of Our World (Washington, DC: PRB, 2002); PRB, The World’s Youth 2000 (Washington, DC: PRB, 2000); Jonathan Nash and Roger-Mark De Souza, Making the Link: Population, Health, Environment (Washington, DC: PRB, 2002).

Yvette Collymore is a senior editor at PRB.