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Congo: Africa's "Thank God for Mississippi"

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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For all of the suffering in Sudan, a new report seeks to remind us that things are even worse in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is estimating that more than 5.4 million people have died in the Congo from war-related causes since 1998, and that people there are currently dying at a rate of more than 40,000 per month—even though the war technically ended five years ago. These casualty estimates dwarf those coming from the conflict in Sudan, which has been called the "world's worst humanitarian crisis" by UN officials and has received far more attention from Western media, advocacy groups, and celebrities.

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An IRC representative attributes the attention imbalance in part to "compassion fatigue" (tell us about it!) and the fact that the deaths in the Congo are largely caused by diseases like malaria and malnutrition rather than direct violence. The rep tells Newsweek: "I've given lectures in universities where even the global health experts are pretty ignorant of what's going on in Congo," and pondered: "What does it say about us if we're, at best, simply ignorant—or worse, willfully ignorant—of the deaths of 5.4 million people?" Uh, nothing good.

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