Tackling Climate Change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Climate change may seem like a far-off threat to some. For others, it’s a constant companion. This is especially true for women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For context: the world relies on the DRC for the minerals that power cell phones, computers, and cars. This vast African country, the second largest on the continent, fuels the tech sector (and, likely, the very device you are using to read this blog.) The land also fuels most household incomes, with women planting and harvesting plantains and cassava the size of your arm.

With climate change, the rainy season is merciless–destroying crops and valuable farmland. All the while, the DRC’s valuable resources are extracted and exported from the earth’s core for the benefit of people largely outside of the country’s borders. Though the DRC’s rainforests offer vital food and protection, deforestation–clearing the trees to create more farmland or make charcoal–has caused the rainforests to shrink by 3,100 km2 each year.

For perspective, at this rate, it will take only two years to wipe out the equivalent of Banff National Park.

90% of people in the DRC rely on charcoal as their primary energy source. Charcoal is made by burning down old-growth trees for days at a time. While the fumes from charcoal cause an increased risk for asthma (particularly for those hunched over charcoal cookstoves for hours a day…), it turns out that charcoal is even more than a smoldering tree. It’s also a smoking gun. The charcoal trade itself funds dangerous militias with ties to the Rwandan genocide.

It’s fair to say that the lack of alternative energy has reached a crisis point, with women directly in the cross hairs.

“Who works in the fields? Who is the most vulnerable when it comes to accessing resources such as water and electricity? It’s us, the women. It’s always the women,” says the leader of a regional women’s fund.

Working with a network of local women’s organizations, this long-time partner of The MATCH Fund sees renewable energy as the key to independence for women and girls in the DRC. For this very reason, a grant in part from The MATCH Fund will support eight women to attend a solar energy training this June. These women were nominated by their local communities to receive the training and then return home to train other women.

Communities are eager for this knowledge. Solar energy will not just transform cookstoves by reducing a reliance on charcoal. It puts the (literal) power in women’s hands: turning on lights, taking back the land, and even dictating who controls the TV or radio dials. Climate change may have the greatest impact on women, but so do the solutions to halt it in its tracks.