Aftermath of war in Congo 'kills 45,000 each month'

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War, disease and malnutrition are killing 45,000 Congolese every month in a conflict-driven humanitarian crisis that has claimed 5.4 million victims in nearly a decade, a survey released yesterday has found.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which carried out the study with Australia's Burnet Institute, said the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from 1998 to 2003, and its aftermath had caused more deaths than any other conflict since the Second World War.

George Rupp, the president of the aid group, said in a statement: "Congo's loss is equivalent to the entire population of Denmark or the state of Colorado perishing within a decade."

Mr Rupp said "ongoing strife and poverty continue to take a staggering toll. The conflict and its aftermath, in terms of fatalities, surpass any other since the Second World War."

Malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition were the top killers in the Congo, the survey said.

Richard Brennan, the IRC director of global health programmes, said: "Most of the deaths are due to easily treatable and preventable diseases through the collapse of health systems and the disruption of livelihoods."

Congo has the lowest spending on health care of any country in the world, at an average of just $15 (£7.50) per person per year. "If you're in the US, we spend $6,000 per person per year," Mr Brennan said.

The study was conducted between January 2006 and April last year. Children under five were the hardest hit in that period, accounting for nearly half of all deaths despite making up one-fifth of the population.

In the east, where rebel groups, local militia and the Congo's own army still prey on civilians, the mortality rate is 85 per cent higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa.