- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

KINSHASA, Congo — Even now, as thousands of children die each week from drinking dirty water and not having enough food, and the people of once-thriving communities hide like the hunted in the forests, the Congolese expect little from the world’s big spenders.

But as Congo watches the global scramble to raise billions in aid for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami, many here wonder why Asian suffering stirs action while African suffering is greeted largely with apathy.

The New York-based International Rescue Committee says nearly 4 million people have been killed in Congo since the start of war in 1998, most from war-induced disease and starvation. Fighting persists in the county’s east — the epicenter of the war — and 1,000 are dying each day, half of them younger than 5.

The Asian tsunami, in comparison, has killed over 150,000. The disaster was a sudden scourge of nature, while Congo’s toll has accumulated slowly, at the hands of man.

“Over the last six years, millions of people have died here from this war,” said Kudura Kasongo, spokesman for President Joseph Kabila. “In Asia, they’re dying too, and getting money. Why is this?”

“In Asia, Westerners are also dying alongside them, perhaps that’s why,” Mr. Kasongo said.

Led by $810 million from Australia, the victims of the Indian Ocean tragedy have received a total of nearly $4 billion in pledges.

According to the IRC, international humanitarian aid for Congo was $188 million — roughly $3 per person — in 2004.

“Asia’s crisis is temporary, but here we have a permanent catastrophe,” said Ingele Ifoto, a government minister who recently headed a program to return 32,000 displaced people from Congo’s dense northern Equateur province. Many were found roaming naked through the wilds, their clothing rotted off.

On Thursday, British Treasury chief Gordon Brown called on the world’s richest nations to contribute an additional $50 billion to the world’s poorest countries, particularly in Africa.

The same day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the dire humanitarian situation in Africa as “the equivalent of a man-made, preventable tsunami every week.”

“Outside of the tsunami areas, I would say Congo is the one area in the world where most people die of neglect and lack of attention and lack of presence of the international community,” U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said.

In Congo’s hardscrabble capital, Kinshasa, decades of government corruption and broken promises have taught its people a thing or two.

“I’ll tell you why no one gives Congo any money,” said Ponce Mondano, a mason at a market near the Congo River. “Because every time they do, the government just steals it.”

Africa has had its share of the world’s sympathy.

In 1984, Live Aid brought significant attention to victims of Ethiopia’s famine, and world leaders have recently spoken out on behalf of Sudan’s western Darfur region, where ethnic conflict has displaced an estimated 2 million people since early 2003 and killed tens of thousands. The world response to Ethiopia helped prompt long-term improvements in famine-warning and food-reserve systems, international officials say.

The U.S. Agency for International Development spent $54 million on Congo in 2004. The request for 2005 is $32 million. The decline mostly reflects an elimination of food aid.

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