IRC Briefs Congress on Congo Crisis and Urges Strong Humanitarian Response
At a Washington hearing, he said the study, conducted earlier this year and released last week, found that approximately 3.5 million deaths have occurred in eastern Congo since the onset of the war in August 1998. That’s 2.5 million more than would have been expected in peaceful times, he explained. About 350,000 of these deaths were directly due to violence, he said, while the other excess deaths were associated with the displacement, economic disruption, and health system dysfunction that so often accompany war.
“In every area we have surveyed, the number of deaths equals or exceeds the number of births. This is occurring in a population that was growing at 3% per year through the early 1990’s. This is not just the further decay of health conditions following President Mobutu’s Zaire. This is something new and far worse,” he told the committee. He also noted a direct correlation between deaths from non-violent causes and deaths from violence, saying the most violent areas in eastern Congo also suffer the most deaths from treatable diseases.
Roberts urged the members of Congress to consider three measures. He said the U.S. government should try to verify the findings, saying, “Two to three million excess deaths is too horrifying a possibility to go uncorroborated.”
He called for the development of a coherent, comprehensive, consistent U.S. policy that incorporates aid and diplomatic efforts in all the countries involved in the crisis.
Lastly, he called for a humanitarian response proportional to the level of the crisis. “Many things could be done, which are not undertaken presently for lack of funds.... increasing access to humanitarian air transport, vaccinating against measles, supplying clinics so that they can treat the most common diseases such as malaria and diarrhea, and assuring that malnourished people who arrive in safe havens can receive therapeutic feeding.”
Also testifying at the hearing were Sulaiman Ali Baldo of Human Rights Watch, Father Jean-Bosco Bahala, Archbishop of Bukavu, investigative reporter Wayne Madsen, and Anne Edgerton of Refugees International.