Photo essay: 1.9m children suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the DRC

Families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) seek safety and nourishment for their children. Violence and insecurity in the DRC continue to impede access to critical services for millions of children. In the Kasaï region, an estimated ...

Families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) seek safety and nourishment for their children.

Violence and insecurity in the DRC continue to impede access to critical services for millions of children. In the Kasaï region, an estimated 400,000 children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying if not reached with urgent life-saving health and nutrition assistance. They are a portion of at least 1.9 million children under age 5 who suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Their neglect is a result of violence, mass displacement and reduced agricultural production over the past 18 months. Severe food insecurity now affects large parts of the volatile region, leaving most households unable to work their land to grow crops, and little produce to buy or sell at local markets.

In this stunning series of images, learn what life is like for these families seeking safety, stability and nourishment for their children.

Parents (left-right) Mutuamba Gedeon, holding son, 4-year-old Tshidipi Mutombo, and Nathalie Mbomba, holding daughter, 2-year-old Ngalula Mutombo

Mutuamba and Nathalie’s family spent eight months living in the bush. Their two children pictured developed severe acute malnutrition due to a lack of proper food and nourishment. “We would like peace so we could come back to work,” Ms. Mbomba said.

Mamy Mulanga holds her sleeping son, 4-month-old Tshinakanudia

Mamy fled to the relative safety of the Lulua River for three months during a period of heightened conflict. “I gave birth during my escape. It was hard but I had experience because it was my fourth child,” Ms. Mulanga said. She is afraid that the conflict may start up again, harming her children’s prospects for a better life.

Bertine Kamuanya Balekelayi (partially visible) stands with her son at a clinic for malnourished children

Ms. Balekelayi fled the violence in her home city of Tshikapa with her children, resettling temporarily with relatives in Tshikaji. “Because I lost all my belongings when we fled, I can’t do anymore the small business I had set up.”

Ntumba Beya with her grandson Antoine

Ntumba Beya was left to care for Antoine at 1 month old after violence separated them from his parents. Antoine quickly became malnourished because his mother wasn’t present to breastfeed him. Ntumba has suffered from the poor harvests, as well: “I couldn’t sow anything last year, so I cannot sell food at the market anymore to earn something.”

Ngalula Badiendele and her children

Ngalula and her family have spent two months intermittently living in the shelter of the bush. None of her four children have an appetite and the two in her arms, son Kajunga (left), 17 months old, and daughter Tshipala (right), 3, are both malnourished. “Life was not easy at the time. It still isn’t. I just hope peace will come back so my family will live like we used to,” Ms. Badiendele said.

All photos © UNICEF/Tremeau