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Congolese Strife Continues to Kill Thousands

A new survey reports that an estimated 5.4 million people have died in the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998. Another 45,000 are dying every month. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.

A study led by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian organization found five years after the catastrophic war in Congo officially ended, the rate at which people are dying in the country remains virtually unchanged.

This is despite efforts of the world's largest peacekeeping force, billions of dollars in international aid and a historic election that revived democracy after decades of violence and despotism.

IRC president George Rupp says the conflict and its aftermath, in terms of fatalities, are the worst since World War II. According to Rupp, Congo's loss is equivalent to the entire population of Denmark or the U.S. state of Colorado perishing within a decade.

IRC UK director Sarah Hughes tells VOA that a tiny percentage of the deaths were caused by violence, illustrating how the aftermath of war can be more deadly than combat itself.

"By far the overwhelming proportion of people dying is through preventable disease such as malaria or pneumonia," she said. "Disease which can be prevented when there is security, when the population has access to health services, in other words they can reach a clinic, the clinic does have the drugs they need, they can give birth in safe surroundings etc."

Young children, who are especially susceptible to diseases like malaria, measles, dysentery and typhoid, have been particularly hard hit because medicines have not been available.

Hughes says although children are only 19 percent of the DRC's population, they make up half of the non-combat related deaths. According to the United Nations children's fund, UNICEF, the DRC is one of 11 countries where 20 percent of children die before the age of five.

Hughes says the purpose of the survey is to bring attention to Congo's crisis.

"The thing about the crisis in the Congo is that its very long drawn out, and that's why we want to bring the world's attention more to the plight of the Congolese and the need for very sustained international efforts in terms of resources and other forms of assistance to really help the government of the Congo and the people of the Congo to pull them out of the aftermath of conflict," she added.

The IRC expressed hope that reconciliation and recovery efforts will follow this week's peace agreement between militia leaders and Congo's government.

The survey was based on a sample of 14,000 households surveyed in 700 villages and towns across Congo from January 2006 to April 2007.

The DRC has experienced two foreign invasions that involved neighboring countries since 1994. Even after the departure of foreign forces, violence has erupted in such regions of the country as North Kivu.