The impact of electricity rollout by Virunga Alliance in Eastern DR Congo

We measure the impact of electricity provision on economic development, security and conservation. Our case study focuses on rural and urban communities nearby Virunga National Park, in North Kivu, DR Congo. Impoverished by two decades of armed conflict, the communities complement their livelihoods with the park's resources to make ends meet. These resources are also illicitly exploited by at least eight armed groups that have their hideouts within the park's boundaries. The electricity rollout is implemented by Virunga Alliance, a public-private partnership that seeks to bring about security and conservation through development. According to Virunga's theory of change, electrification will spur development, which will in turn reduce people's reliance on the park's resources as well as their support for, and participation in, rebel groups. The theory of change finds support in the literature, but needs further testing.

The intervention

Virunga Alliance is rolling out 100 megawatts (MW) electricity over a multi-year period. Early 2019, about 10% of the targeted 100 MW was being generated by two hydropower plants: Mutwanga I and Matebe, located in the territories of Beni and Rutshuru (see the map below). Two plants with a combined capacity of 14.3 MW became operational in the course of 2019-2021. With the additional 40 MW, Virunga Alliance aims to reach an estimated 250,000 rural inhabitants and 500,000 urban inhabitants. In the longer term, five additional hydropower plants with a combined capacity of about 70 MW are scheduled to be constructed, bringing the total estimated number of inhabitants in the rural and urban catchment area to 500,000 and 1 million, respectively.

Notes: The map on the top left shows the outline of DR Congo, with the province of North Kivu indicated in orange. The map on the bottom left zooms in on North Kivu, with the Virunga National Park indicated in green. The map on the right indicates the four study areas, and the approximate location of the existing and future power plants, as well as their capacity.

The impact evaluation

To learn about the causal effect of electrification, we designed an impact evaluation that exploits the gradual rollout of electricity, in combination with a difference-in-differences estimation. Concretely, the impact will be measured by comparing time trends in socio-economic development, conservation and security across treatment and control localities. The treatment localities will be connected in the period between January 2019 and December 2021; the control localities will only be connected at a later stage. The time trends will be measured by means of a pre-treatment and post-treatment census and survey.

Research progress

We have completed baseline data collection in Beni territory, Goma, and Lubero territory. To this end we trained a team of locally recruited enumerators.

In total, the baseline data contains census information on approximately 50,000 households and 2,500 firms, and a detailed structured survey among a stratified random sample of almost 2,000 households and 700 firms.

Table. Census and Survey observation

Table: census and survey observation

The map below presents the baseline census data for one locality in Beni territory. The blue dots indicate the location of households, green dots indicate firms and red dots indicate institutions.

Table. Census and Survey observation

The follow-up rounds in Beni territory and Goma took place in 2022, while the follow-up survey in Lubero is scheduled for 2023.


The core research project led to several spin-offs, either because we transformed a challenge into an opportunity (Ebola & Covid-19 & Nyiragongo Eruption), or because we looked for ways to strengthen the causal identification and make the data collection more cost-effective (AtlasAI), or because Virunga took policy initiatives that lend itself relatively easily to an impact evaluation (eCookers). We briefly summarize the different spin-offs below, and the research stage they are at.

Spin-off 1: Ebola vs. Covid-19

In April 2020, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was facing two major infectious disease outbreaks: Covid-19 and Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). To study the socioeconomic impact of both diseases, we conducted a phone survey with subsamples of our respondents in Goma and Beni, and a new sample of respondents from Rutshuru territory. While 3,470 EVD cases and 2,287 EVD deaths were confirmed since August 2018, self-reported impacts of EVD on revenues, access to food and behaviour were limited. In contrast, only 251 Covid-19 cases were reported as of July 22nd but respondents reported sizable effects on livelihoods, especially in the large urban hub, in part driven by substantial job losses. Our results show that different infectious disease outbreaks can have very different effects, largely unrelated to case numbers of the disease. Moderately lethal but highly transmissible viruses such as Covid-19 can trigger a steep economic downturn, especially in areas with high economic interconnectedness, reflecting both national and international policies to contain the pandemic. Our findings are published as an IOB working paper, an IOB Blog (both in English and in French) and are published in World Development.

Spin-off 2: Nyiragongo eruption

On May 22, 2012, the Nyiragongo volcano, located at the outskirts of Goma, erupted. Following a series of earthquakes, there were concerns that the city could be further affected. Hence, on May 27, 2021, an evacuation order was given for 10 city areas in Goma. The evacuation order was lifted on June 7, 2021. Both the eruption and the risk for subsequent eruption triggered a refugee flow of people seeking safety. We study how Goma residents coped with the eruption and evacuation order. Who decided to leave, or stay behind? How did the evacuation order and the relative risk of exposure to the lava stream affect the decision to flee? Did this decision vary across individuals part of the same household? If so, why? How did people who fled fulfil their basic needs in terms of shelter, food, and water? To answer these questions, we designed a survey. Elie Lunanga and Elias Maombi travelled to Goma in June 2021 to train and supervise a team of enumerators. They conducted interviews with 642 respondents who were present in Goma at the time of the eruption. Elias analysed the data in his Master dissertation, titled “Flee or stay? Exploring the intra-household decision to flee in the face of the 2021 volcano eruption in Goma, Eastern DRC”. His dissertation won the Prize for Global Research awarded by the Province of Antwerp. We are now transforming this dissertation into an academic article. Check out Elias’ short video on his prize-winning research.

Spin-off 3: Atlas AI

We have started collaborating with Atlas AI – a University of Stanford spin-off specialized in applying Artificial Intelligence techniques to develop better quality and more localized socioeconomic measures in data sparse environments. Our collaboration is benefiting from a Wellspring Philanthropic Fund grant to explore the extent to which satellite- and machine learning-based estimates can complement survey-based outcome measurements. For instance, we will conduct a complementary impact assessment of electrification relying on Atlas AI’s localized measures of asset wealth. In addition, we are exploring the possibility of using high-resolution imagery to develop new machine learning pipelines to identify building construction and quality characteristics, as well as locate exact places and times where deforestation and charcoal production take place.

Spin-off 4: eCookers

This spinoff has become so large that it merits its own research project page.

Academic output

Nik Stoop, Sébastien Desbureaux, Audacieux Kaota, Elie Lunanga, Marijke Verpoorten “Covid-19 vs. Ebola: impact on households and SMEs in Nord Kivu, DR Congo” (World Development). 


BLOG Desbureaux Sébastien, Kaota Audacieux, Lunanga Elie, Stoop Nik, Verpoorten Marijke. Covid-19 vs. Ebola: high stakes for Eastern DRC. Institute of Development Policy blog - (2020.06.17)

BLOG Desbureaux Sébastien, Kaota Audacieux, Lunanga Elie, Stoop Nik, Verpoorten Marijke (2020). Covid-19 vs Ebola: des enjeux importants pour l’Est de la RDC. Institute of Development Policy blog - (2020.06.17).


The research is funded by Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, as well as by the Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek – Vlaanderen (FWO) and the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) under EOS Project No. G0G4318N, the FWO postdoctoral scholarship 12W8320N, and the FWO project G029321N; and the University of Antwerp’s Research Fund DOCPRO – BOF scholarship FFB190256. We also receive gifts through the UAntwerp Universiteitsfonds.

Ethics & DMP

The data collection for this research project received ethical clearance from the Ethics Committee for the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Antwerp (file number SHW_19_03). Explicit verbal consent was sought from the respondents and they were informed of their right not to participate or not to answer certain questions.

In accordance with the FWO Research Data Management policy, we submitted our Data Management Plan to the UAntwerp department Research, Innovation & Valorisation Antwerp (RIVA).

Local collaborators

We receive regular updates of Virunga Monitoring & Evaluation on the rollout of electrification and other interventions that we need to take into account in our impact evaluation. Once a year, we present the progress of our research to the Virunga Academic Sounding Board.

We are grateful to the enumerators who conducted the surveys:

Asifiwe Lyliane Celestine; Baibone Emmanuel Fitina; Baranywera  Isidore Kadurha; Byeka Ines Musa; Cimanga  Alice Munyerenkana; Hangi Eric Kapitula; Kahambu  Blandine Kikwaya; Kanduki  Anicet Mumbere; Lobo Jean Jacques Dundji; Lulimwabakulu Alexis Mukangahe; M'lugeshe Christelle Kabakaba; Mapendo Rosette Kavira; Muderhwa Jordan  Muhuhu; Mugheni Elvire Safi; Mugisho Gabriel Dunia; Muhindo Pristley; Mukungerwa  Fidele Kasereka; Mulindwa  Clairice Kahunga; Mulwahali Jean de la Croix Kambere; Mungu-riek Merveille Lydia; Musivirwa  Rachel Zawadi; Mutaka Gratieux Shashi; Mwachigila Alphonse Kasongo; Namegabe  Patrick Mugisho; Nobikana Micheline; Ombeni Moise; Shashi Gracieux; Simbyliabo Micheline Nobikana; Siwatula Justin Kitsa; Siwatula Justin; Sunama Maombi Muhindo; Unyerto William Uuci; Vwira Pacifique; Wathaut Jean de Dieu Kyalondawa and Zihalirwa Patrick Batumike.

Research tools, data and replication files

Survey questions and replication files for the paper by Nik Stoop, Sébastien Desbureaux, Audacieux Kaota, Elie Lunanga, Marijke Verpoorten “Covid-19 vs. Ebola: impact on households and SMEs in Nord Kivu, DR Congo” (World Development).