Wednesday, January 23, 2008

45,000 people dying a month in Congo, says report

As the government of President Joseph Kabila squabbled with representatives of renegade general Laurent Nkunda’s Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) and local Mai-Mai militias over the terms of a peace deal in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s war-wracked east, a new report sheds light on the human cost of this largely-ignored conflict.

The report, by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Australia's Burnet Institute, asserts that mortality rates remain “unchanged” since the group’s last survey in 2004 and that even as “mortality rates are significantly higher in the volatile eastern provinces than in the west of the country… mortality rates have risen significantly in the center of DR Congo.”

The study goes on to estimate that 5.4 million excess deaths have occurred between August 1998 and April 2007, and an estimated 2.1 million of those deaths have occurred since the formal end of war in 2002. That comes out to 45,000 people dying every month, largely from preventable and treatable conditions such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. That is a monthly death rate nearly 60 percent higher than the average for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Since the 1994 Rwandan genocide helped tip central Africa into perpetual war, a little-reported humanitarian disaster has unfolded, month by month, year by year, with the most vulnerable of Congo’s populace - especially women and children - being subject to unimaginable cruelties by various Congolese political factions as well as the cross-border ambitions of Rwanda, Angola and other countries. As multinationals line up to exploit Congo’s rich mineral resources, the political problems that have helped cause these problems still have yet to be addressed in a substantive way by the international community, despite the presence of nearly 17,000 United Nations troops in the country.

I depart for Congo in little more than a week, and over the next several months, will do my best to cover the struggles of the people there in the face of such violence and hardship. Hopefully, in some way, these reports will help turn the focus of international discourse to this long-suffering part of the world.

Peux ce que veux.

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