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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since World War Two

Africa's Congo Holocaust
Will Money Finally Lay To Rest King Leopold's Ghost?

The U.N., backed by the European Commission, unveiled a program to spend $680 million this year alone to help Congo through a transition from a 1997-2003 war which has killed nearly four million people directly or indirectly."We are talking about a country where 1,200 people die in silence every day from the lingering effects of war," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan' speaking by video, told a conference in Brussels to launch the plan."During six years of armed conflict, almost four million people have perished. That makes it the deadliest conflict since World War Two."The new program comes amid high hopes for peace after some 25 million people out of a population of 60 million in a country the size of Western Europe voted for a new constitution last year and prepare for elections in June. But while the UN and the European Commission have identified 330 projects to fund in an effort to cement the fragile peace and rebuild the country, they admitted having a long way to go to raise the money, while facing a huge problem of indifference."If we work under the basic premise that a human life is worth as much in the Congo as in Belgium, as in Aceh, it should not be difficult for us to fully fund the $680 million," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told a news conference. Asked how much had been pledged so far, he did not name a figure, saying: "It's a good start, but we still have a long way to go... for the last few years, compared to the needs of the country, we are seeing (Congo) as probably the most underfunded of all our emergencies worldwide."

"TOO MUCH MISERY"

The sheer scale of the tragedy in a country where life expectancy at birth fell from 54 years to 43 in less than a decade has contributed to a sense of inability to help, he said."Most of us in the international community have seen it as an incomprehensible amount of parallel conflicts, too many parties, too much misery, you couldn't really find out what was happening," Egeland said. "At the same time, the international media has covered this on average very badly.... one non-governmental organization found out that there was six minutes of network coverage in the United States last year on DRC. I hope this is all in the past."Britain has pledged an additional $100 million for 2006-2007 and welcomes the U.N.'s Action Plan, International Development Minister Hilary Benn said on Monday."That's going to go on providing food and shelter for people who have had to flee their homes, emergency medical equipment, life-saving vaccinations, helping to rebuild schools, provide clean water," he told BBC radio. Speakers at a conference in Brussels, including EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel and Congolese Planning Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, stressed the enormity of the problems facing the country. These include an almost complete breakdown of the health system, absence of transport infrastructure, and endemic violence, especially sexual violence against women and children. The U.N. humanitarian coordinator based in Kinshasa, Ross Mountain, urged the world to pay more attention to the relentless death toll."They die, alas, in silence. They do not die in front of TV cameras, therefore it's very hard to dramatise," he said. "They die, nonetheless."


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