According to a new study, nearly four million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998, making it the deadliest humanitarian crisis in the world. The authors of the report say most of the deaths were from easily preventable and treatable causes stemming from war.
A young boy looks on as Congolese army soldiers patrol streets of Goma near Rwanda border in Congo, June 30, 2005 The study's authors say 3.9 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo have died since war broke out five years ago. The figure is a calculation based on a nationwide survey of 19,500 homes conducted through 2004.
According to the report, published this week in the international medical journal The Lancet, there are just over two deaths-per-1,000 Congolese.
Survey lead author Richard Brennan says the high death toll exceeds modern war-time fatalities.
"If you actually look at total numbers of deaths from all conflicts since the World War II, Congo is deadliest conflict in the last 60 years," he said.
The history of war in the former Belgium colony is complex, with Congo trying to emerge from conflicts which have drawn in a half-dozen or more African neighbors.
Last month, voters in Congo approved a new constitution which paves the way for national elections in 2007. The December 18 balloting was the first independent election in the central African nation in 40 years.
The violence has left millions of Congolese in its wake, the victims of warlords and breakdowns in basic infrastructure.
Mr. Brennan, who is with the International Rescue Committee in New York, says only about 1.5 percent of deaths in the country are actually due to violence.
He says the vast majority of people die due to lack of care.
"When you have high levels of insecurity, it means health systems stop functioning, farmers can't farm their land, mothers can't get their children immunized, markets don't work," he said. "So, you have all these indirect effects of increased rates of infections and infectious diseases and malnutrition."
Mr. Brennan says most causes of death in the Democratic Republic of Congo could be dramatically reduced through the strengthening of the country's security forces and a committed international peacekeeping effort.