DR Congo

IRC study points to horrific death toll in eastern Congo: 2.5 million "excess" deaths in 33 months of unrest

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The protracted civil war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo continues to take an extraordinarily high toll on the population.
A mortality study released today by the International Rescue Committee estimates that since the outbreak of fighting in August 1998, some 2.5 million deaths have occurred in excess of the number normally expected.

"The loss of life is perhaps the worst in Africa in recent decades," says Reynold Levy, president of the IRC. "The magnitude of suffering is extraordinary."

The latest survey updated and expanded a study conducted last year in eastern Congo which estimated that 1.7 million excess deaths had occurred in the first 22 months of the conflict. Les Roberts, an epidemiologist and the IRC's director of health policy, conducted both studies.

Like last year's study, the current report indicates that the overwhelming majority of deaths were related to disease and malnutrition-the tragic byproduct of a war that decimated Congo's health care system and economy. Continued fighting has driven hundreds of thousands of people into forests and jungles where they have had no access to food, medicine or shelter. In turn, war-affected areas have been inaccessible to aid organizations because of the insecurity.

Both surveys found a proportionally smaller number of deaths - 350,000 in 33 months - directly attributable to violence. Even so, Roberts said, one out of eight households surveyed have experienced the violent death of a family member during this period.

Among the most disturbing findings is the disproportionate effect on young children. "In several health zones, we found a dearth of children under two years of age," says Roberts. "In two districts, Moba and Kalemie, an estimated 75 percent of children born during this war have died or will die before their second birthday."

"Congo is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions," Levy says. "These surveys demonstrate a compelling need to respond to the situation in the east, and throughout Congo, with a massive, well-conceived and well-organized international program of humanitarian assistance."

The complete report can be found on the IRC's Web site: www.theIRC.org/mortality.cfm.

The IRC's mortality surveys were funded in large part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Media inquiries can be made to:

Edward Bligh, Phone: (212) 551-3114
eMail: ebligh@theIRC.org

© The IRC 1993-2000