Friday, January 06, 2006

38,000 die each month in the DR Congo

"One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." -Joseph Stalin

When figuring out how people will respond to a foreign tragedy, it comes down to three things: location, location, location.

And TV cameras too.

The September 11, 2001 homicide attacks killed about 3,000 people yet it's had more impact on American politics and foreign policy than anything since World War II. And to the great extent that American foreign policy impacts the rest of the world, it had a huge impact on international affairs as well.

While 3,000 is pretty big death toll for a single incident, there have been other wars and attacks with greater loss of life that had a relatively miniscule influence on American or international affairs. Why? Because those attacks didn't occur in the heart of New York City. The international response would've been significantly less if the attack had been launched in Kathmandu, Bogota or Algiers (in countries with homegrown terrorist problems).

The Asian tsunami of 2004 had a devastating effect and cost an estimated 283,000 lives and over a million displaced. It generated an international response that was probably unprecedented in scale. As someone who regularly reads articles on underfunded international crisis appeals, I was heartened by the response to the tsunami. That it hit easily accessible coastal regions, including many tourist areas, made it easier to TV crews to get images. That Europeans and Americans were amongst the victims, if a tiny fraction, ensured that it got coverage in the western media.

But if I told you there was a conflict that has cost almost 15 times as many lives as the tsunami, could you name that crisis? If I told you there was a crisis that, in mortality terms, was the equivalent of a three 9/11s every week for the last 7 years, would you know which one I'm talking about?

I bet few westerners could, even though it's by far the deadiest conflict of the last 60 years.

The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is killing an estimated 38,000 people each month, according to the British medical journal The Lancet. And if not for the involvement of humanitarian non-governmental organizations and UN relief agencies, the toll would be much higher.

Most of the deaths are not caused by violence but by malnutrition and preventable diseases after the collapse of health services, the study said, notes the BBC.

Since the war began in 1998, some 4m people have died, making it the world's most deadly war since 1945, it said.

A peace deal has ended most of the fighting but armed gangs continue to roam the east, killing and looting.

The political process in the DRC is slowly inching in the right direction. Voters in the country recently approved a new constitution, to replace the one imposed on it by the outgoing Belgian colonialists. EU officials praised the referendum as free and fair, probably the first truly open poll in the country's history. Elections are scheduled for June of this year.

However, instability reigns in much of the country, particularly the east. And central government throughout the entireity of the country has never been strong in this gigantic country. There are 17,000 UN peacekeepers doing the best they can but the country's the size of Western Europe. (By contrast the Americans and British have ten times as many troops in Iraq, a country that's less than 1/5 the size of the DRC. And we know how many problems they're having there)

And this shows why war should ALWAYS be a last resort. Most of the deaths have not been directly caused by war (bullet wounds, landmines, etc). Most of the deaths have been caused by factors provoked by war's instability and destruction. The destruction of all infrastructure like roads and medical clinics. The inability to get to sources of clean water. The fear of leaving the house to tend the fields or go to the market.

38,000 people a month. If you get pissed off at Howard Dean or Pat Robertson, spare a little outrage for this.

And maybe a few bucks.

-Doctors Without Borders
-World Food Program
-Catholic Relief Services


Post a Comment

<< Home