Congo Humanitarian Crisis the
by Todd Pitman
January 6, 2006
War-ravaged Congo is suffering the world's
deadliest humanitarian crisis, with 38,000 people dying each month
mostly from easily treatable diseases, a study published Friday
in Britain's leading medical journal said.
Nearly 4 million people died between 1998-2004
alone - the indirect result of years of ruinous fighting that
has brought on a stunning collapse of public health services,
the study in the Lancet concluded.
The majority of deaths were due to disease
rather than violence, but war has cut off or reduced access to
health services for millions in the impoverished nation about
one-quarter the size of the United States.
Most deaths reported were due to "preventable
and easily treatable diseases," the study said. Malaria,
diarrhea, respiratory infections and malnutrition topped the list.
Major fighting ended in Congo in 2002
but the situation remains dire because of continued insecurity,
poor access to health care and inadequate international aid. The
problems are particularly acute in eastern Congo.
"Rich donor nations are miserably
failing the people of (Congo), even though every few months the
mortality equivalent of two southeast Asian tsunamis plows through
its territory," the study said.
Backed by about 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers, Congo's government is
struggling to re-establish authority across the country ahead
of elections expected later this year, the first in decades. Militiamen
still roam huge swaths of the east, formerly controlled by several
different rebel groups whose leaders have been allotted top government
The study was based on a survey of 19,500
households across the country of 60 million between April and
July 2004. Health Ministry workers and staff of the aid group
International Rescue Committee conducted the interviews.
The results showed Congo's monthly mortality
rate was 40 percent higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa
- 2.1 deaths per 1,000 people, or the equivalent of 1,200 fatalities
per day, compared with a continental average of 1.5 deaths per
Mortality rates were highest in Congo's
eastern provinces, which have been wracked by fighting and lawlessness
for a decade. There, death rates were 93 percent higher than the
sub-Saharan Africa average.
"The persistently high mortality
in ... Congo is deeply disturbing and indicates that both national
and international efforts to address the crisis remain grossly
inadequate," the report said.
The survey is the fourth of its kind conducted
in Congo, Africa's third-largest nation. The International Rescue
Committee conducted three earlier surveys, the last of which in
2004 said that six years of conflict had claimed 3.8 million lives,
mostly due to disease and food shortages.
Congo's government dismissed the report.
"I consider that a big lie,"
Minister of Information, Henri Mova Sakanyi said. "These
figures are very exaggerated. All over the world, people die of
disease, it's not just Congo," Sakanyi told The Associated
"It's known that (aid) agencies have
often played with the figures ... to get financial support,"
the minister added.
The Lancet study said the deaths counted
were "excess" deaths that would not have occurred if
the situation in Congo was normal.
Much of Africa has grappled with conflict
or natural disaster - drought-induced food shortages in Niger
last year, fighting in Sudan's Darfur region and in northern Uganda.
But Congo "remains the world's deadliest humanitarian crisis,"
the study said.
"Improvements in security and increased
humanitarian assistance are urgently needed."
Congo suffered back-to-back wars. The
first was in 1996-1997 when Rwandan-backed rebels swept the country
to overthrow dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. A second 1998-2002 war
sucked in the armies of half a dozen African nations.
Fighting led to mass displacement and
a collapse of public health services, rights abuses and an increase
in rape. Some remote areas are still cut off from contact with
the outside world.
But the situation in Congo was dire for
decades: years of corruption left the country deeply impoverished
and undeveloped despite its mineral wealth.
The report blamed the crisis partly on
a drop in donor aid, saying the U.N. had only raised 42 percent
of the funding it sought. It said the U.S. Agency for International
Development's contributions had fallen 25 percent.
"In spite of the critical need to
complement increased humanitarian assistance with scaled-up security
and diplomatic measures, the response of the international community
to date remains inadequate."