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May 11, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – Some 2.5 million people in the eastern half of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have died during the past three years as a direct result of warfare, 350,000 from violence but most from hunger and preventable disease – particularly malaria and diarrhea.

It may be the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in decades, concluded the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in May 9 report. Between August 1998 and April 2001, the IRC said, a total of 3.5 million of eastern Congo’s 19.9 million residents have died – 2.5 million more than expected.

About a million of the dead are children under the age of five. In two regions – Kalemie and Moba – about 75 percent of children born during the war have died or will die before their second birthday, the IRC reported.

A protracted and violent conflict has raged in the DRC, Africa’s third largest country with a total population of 50 million, since August 1998, when Rwandan and Ugandan forces took up arms against then President Laurent Kabila and occupied nearly half of the country.

The war -- involving at least seven neighboring nations and numerous rebel groups -- has forced some two million Congolese from their homes and into remote areas where they have little means of protecting themselves from disease. Another 300,000 have fled the country as refugees.

In response to the health emergency in the DRC, two Church World Service partners – Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA) and the Protestant Church of Congo (ECC) – are resurrecting the Basic Rural Health project, initiated as SANRU I in 1981.

With support from the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. Agency for International Development, they are re-establishing supply lines to 28 "health zones" throughout Congo and, over the next five years, will rebuild or re-establish 160 to 170 more, with the ability to assist more than 10 million people. IMA will manage the project.

This decentralization of health services will make primary health care accessible to more people, and will allow IMA member agencies and other partners to channel medicine and resources easily and effectively throughout the area.

Church World Service is responding ecumenically by addressing the needs of IMA and ECC that are not being met by federal grant monies. Its $200,000 program includes $150,000 for purchase of 24,428 mosquito nets – CWS’s contribution to the under-funded malaria control portion of the project. The remaining funds are to support IMA’s management of the $26 million project.


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