/ 22 January 2008

Congo war-driven crisis kills 45 000 a month

War, disease and malnutrition are killing 45 000 Congolese every month in a conflict-driven humanitarian crisis that has claimed 5,4-million victims in nearly a decade, a survey released on Tuesday said.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which carried out the study with Australia’s Burnet Institute, said Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) 1998 to 2003 war and its aftermath had caused more deaths than any other conflict since World War II.

”Congo’s loss is equivalent to the entire population of Denmark or the state of Colorado perishing within a decade,” George Rupp, president of the aid group, said in a statement.

The findings were published on the day the DRC’s government and warring eastern rebel and militia factions were due to sign a ceasefire in the hope of halting fighting in the east which has raged on since the nominal end of the war.

Rupp said that although the DRC’s war formally ended five years ago, ”ongoing strife and poverty continue to take a staggering toll”.

”The conflict and its aftermath, in terms of fatalities, surpass any other since World War II,” he added.

Malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition, aggravated by conflict, were the top killers in the country, the survey said.

”Most of the deaths are due to easily treatable and preventable diseases through the collapse of health systems and the disruption of livelihoods,” said Richard Brennan, IRC director of global health programmes and one of the survey’s authors.

The study was conducted between January 2006 and April 2007 in 14 000 households in all the country’s 11 provinces. It updated previous mortality surveys which estimated the toll from the war at around four million.

The IRC said an estimated 727 000 people died in excess of normal mortality during the latest survey period. Children under the age of five were the hardest hit, accounting for nearly half of all deaths despite making up 19% of the population.

Before the latest survey, humanitarian workers had been estimating that at least 1 000 people a day were dying in the DRC.

”Since our last study in 2004, there’s been no change in the national rate, which is nearly 60% higher than the sub-Saharan average,” Brennan said.

The vast former Belgian colony’s war sucked in its neighbours, as foreign armies and rebel groups vied for control of the country’s rich natural resources. The conflict wrecked infrastructure already weakened by decades of neglect and corrupt leadership, and forced millions to flee their homes.

Though a peace agreement led to the creation of a transitional government in 2003 and to democratic elections in 2006, conflict has continued in the eastern borderlands and the effects are felt nationwide. – Reuters