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UN Calls Eastern Congo Worst Humanitarian Crisis

The U.N. top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, says the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, displacing Sudan's Darfur region, which until recently held that dubious distinction.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, says he in no way means to minimize the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur. But, he says aid operations in this conflict-ridden region of Sudan have been very effective. He says thousands of aid workers are providing needed assistance to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the war.

"They have made so great progress in dealing with the needs of the displaced population, that I would, in fact, now not today use the term the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world,” he said. “I think there are many more preventable deaths in the eastern Congo, which is probably the largest forgotten and neglected emergency today in the world."

Mr. Egeland says more lives are lost in eastern Congo than anywhere else in the world. He says a human life in the Congo is worth as much as a human life in Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia or any other high profile emergency in the world.

"It is beyond belief that we are not treating Eastern Congo as more of an intolerable and acute crisis when a survey showed last year, which still holds, that 1000 people died every day connected to the conflict and the crisis,” he added. “I mean preventable deaths from disease and so on. That is a tsunami every five, six months, year in and year out now for at least six years."

Human rights organizations estimate about one million people in eastern Congo have died from disease and war in the past six years. Mr. Egeland says about three million people there are in acute need of assistance.

The U.N. humanitarian official says rape is widespread in both Congo and Darfur. He says in both situations, many thousands of women have been sexually abused, with little regard or sympathy from their governments. He says in western Darfur, there now are cases of women who are pregnant and not married who are being charged under Sharia law.

"As I understand it, charged for not being married. We believe some of those are raped and that is the reason they are abused,” he said. “It is the ultimate insult to charge women who may have been raped for being pregnant."

Mr. Egeland says he brought this matter up at the highest levels with the Sudanese authorities when he was recently in Khartoum.