Live8 and Geldof draw blank stares in Congo

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The Independent Online

In July 2005 hardly anyone in Africa had heard of Bob Geldof, let alone the series of eight concerts around the world the former Boomtown Rats singer was organising.

Twelve months on, both Live8 and Geldof produce nothing more than blank stares in areas like the North Kivu district in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The region has been blighted by more than a decade of fighting, mainly on ethnic grounds. Life expectancy is just 43 years, while the infant mortality rate is almost one in five. Just 11 per cent of children attend school and less than half of all families have access to proper sanitation facilities.

According to one humanitarian worker based in North Kivu, Live8 has made no difference on the ground. "With all the fighting here it is just one step forward and two back," he said.

Further north in the district of Ituri, 100,000 people are at risk from the pneumonic plague which has already killed 22 and infected a further 144. The medical humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has warned the outbreak could "spiral out of control".

The DRC has a land mass the size of western Europe, but just 500km of paved roads. Its infrastructure is so poor the brigadier general of the army in Ituri has not yet received uniforms and blankets for his soldiers he asked for six months ago.

While many of the problems in Ituri have been based on ethnic divisions, the country's vast mineral resources have proved too tempting for DRC's neighbours and Western mining companies. With all the gold, diamonds and cobalt at the country's disposal it could become one of the richest in the world.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, Monuc, is the largest the organisation has undertaken. Crucially, the 17,000 troops, mainly from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco and Nepal, have the authority to use force against the various militia groups.

But despite the UN presence problems persist. Presidential elections will take place at the end of July and some humanitarian groups are considering scaling down their operations once a democratic government is in place.

Monuc commanders say they will stay for another 18 months but if a UN force is needed in Darfur humanitarian experts fear that the international community will not be prepared to finance two expensive missions in Africa.

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