The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to 70 million West Africans. One of the countries richest in natural resources, it is also one of the least economically developed. As is often reported in the West, regional and civil wars, political corruption, and poverty are endemic.
[This article is part of a reading list on Catholicism and the environment.]
The dominant natural features of the DRC are the Congo River (which arches through the eastern, northern, and western sections of the country on its way to the Atlantic) and the Congo Basin. This basin forms the major land area of the country, and after the Amazon, is the largest rainforest on the planet. The hydroelectric potential of the river remains largely untapped, while the primary source of fuel for the Congolese continues to be charcoal, made from forest products. The making of charcoal, coupled with largely unrestrained activity by logging and mining companies, has led to an alarming decrease in the DRC’s forests, about .6 percent a year. Yet the basin is also home to more than twenty-seven thousand species, many of them unique to the area. This biodiversity and the forest’s ability to capture carbon and release oxygen make it an invaluable global resource.
Eighty percent of Congolese are subsistence farmers who supplement their livelihood with hunting and gathering. Tens of millions...