The impact of electricity roll-out by Virunga Alliance in Eastern 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). Three plants with a combined capacity of 40MW become operational in the course of 2019-2021. With the additional 40MW, Virunga Alliance aims to reach an estimated 250,000 rural inhabitants and 500,000 urban inhabitants. In the longer term, four additional hydropower plants with a combined capacity of about 50MW 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 only at a later stage. The time trends will be measured be means of a pre-treatment and post-treatment census and survey.

Research progress

The first wave of field work in Beni territory was conducted in the period February-May 2019, with the help of a team of 14 locally recruited enumerators. The census registered 6,756 households, 543 firms and 98 institutions (mainly schools, health centres and churches). We further conducted detailed surveys with a randomized subsample of 734 households and 182 businesses..

In Goma, the first wave took place in the period August-September 2019. The census counted 29,575 household 1,140 firms and 270 institutions. The map shows the location of the included households (in green), businesses (in red) and institutions (in yellow). We further conducted surveys with a randomized subsample of 600 households and 200 businesses.

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 behavior 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 forthcoming in World Development.

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” (forthcoming 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 a philanthropist organisation (that wished to stay anonymous), 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 UA Universiteitsfonds.


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

Research tools, data and replication files

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