Thursday, March 13, 2008

Some Congo Killers Are Silent

Over 2.5 million people have died since the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo officially ended in 2003, according to estimates from the International Rescue Committee. And 45,000 more die every month as a result of the country’s many conflicts.

Nearly half of them are children, the rest mostly women, the aged, and the infirm. Some are killed in the strife that continues in the Eastern provinces between government forces, rival warlords, rogue guerrilla bands, and gangs of rapacious criminals. Most, though, don’t die from bullets or blades; they’re victims instead of silent killers like malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition, and diarrhea. But they are casualties of war just as surely as if they had been hacked to death by machetes.

Food supplies are disrupted when fields are destroyed and farmers are driven from their lands. Medical care for easily-treatable diseases is unavailable because violence keeps all but the bravest—or most foolhardy—doctors and nurses away from the places they’re needed most. The cease fire of 2002 may have brought relative peace to the nation, but war continues to take its deadly toll.

People are still dying by the thousands because Congo’s economy and infrastructure was decimated during forty years of government by greedy dictators and wars large and small for control of the nation’s resources. The lack of a simple thing we take for granted—paved roads—is one of the largest single factors in the rising death toll. Because there are so few paved roads, surface transportation is all but unavailable during the best of times and totally impossible during the rainy season, a debilitating condition for a country about the size of Western Europe.

One of the accounts from a missionary I read while researching Heart of Diamonds said it took nine hours to drive 80 miles from Luebo to Bulape in 2000. The road was typical of all but the largest highways near the capital, a one-lane track that hasn’t been maintained because there is no funding for equipment or labor. What little income the government has goes to support the army necessary to keep a semblance of peace.

The lack of surface transportation (the railroads are in even worse shape and the rivers are impassable in many key places due to rapids) is strangling the already struggling economy. It also, of course, greatly complicates the delivery of aid even to the pacified regions.

It’s a recipe for death delivered by silent killers in a part of the world that can ill-afford to lose more of its children along with their mothers and fathers. When the children die, so does the Congo’s future.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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