Rwanda: Death Toll and the Effect on Civilians As with most conflicts, civilians have suffered immensely.

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Death Toll and the Effect on Civilians As with most conflicts, civilians have suffered immensely.


The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has attempted a few surveys during the conflict. As of writing, their latest survey was up to April 2007, released in early 2008.

The IRC found that since the war started in 1998,

  • Some 5.4 million people have died in this conflict
  • It has been the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II
  • The vast majority have actually died from non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition—all typically preventable in normal circumstances, but have come about because of the conflict
  • Although 19% of the population, children account for 47% of the deaths
  • Some 45,000 continue to die each month

Although many have returned home as violence has slightly decreased, Refugees International says there are still some 1.5 million internally displaced or refugees

Unfortunately, the scale of death and destruction revealed is not new. While mainstream media reporting has been sparse and many are unaware of the sheer enormity of this conflict various organizations have been reporting about this problem since the very beginnings of the conflict.

Human Rights Watch raised concerns in a report in May 2000.

In December 2000, Oxfam highlighted that over a million people have been killed due to the conflict in the initial two years.

By mid-2001, one of IRC’s earlier surveys estimated that there had already been around 2.5 million deaths since the outbreak of the fighting in August 1998, with the majority dying of malnutrition and disease that has resulted from the war.

By mid-2003, Amnesty International was reporting on the humantarian disaster of millions displaced and killed.

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Effects on the Environment and Wildlife

The coltan trade and battle over the other minerals and resources has also affected DRC’s wildlife and environment. National Parks that house endangered gorillas and other animals are often overrun to exploit minerals and resources. Increasing poverty and hunger from the war, as well as more people moving into these areas to exploit the minerals results in hunting more wildlife, such as apes, for bush meat. Gorillas, for example are already endangered species. Wars over resources like this makes the situation even worse.

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Does the World Care?

I am convinced now … that the lives of Congolese people no longer mean anything to anybody. Not to those who kill us like flies, our brothers who help kill us or those you call the international community.… Even God does not listen to our prayers any more and abandons us.

Salvatore Bulamuzi, a member of the Lendu community whose parents, two wives and five children were all killed in recent attacks on the town of Bunia, north-eastern DRC. (Quoted from “Our brothers who help kill us”—economic exploitation and human rights abuses in the east, a report from Amnesty International, AFR 62/010/2003, April 1, 2003.)

Oxfam, mentioned above, criticized the international community in their 2000 report for still ignoring the DRC. When comparing with the response in Kosovo, they pointed out that “[i]n 1999, donor governments gave just $8 per person in the DRC, while providing $207 per person in response to the UN appeal for the former Yugoslavia. While it is clear that both regions have significant needs, there is little commitment to universal entitlement to humanitarian assistance.” (Emphasis added)

Oxfam also noted that “[t]he international community is essentially ignoring what has been deemed ‘Africa’s first world war.’ The DRC remains a forgotten emergency. Falling outside of the media spotlight, and experiencing persistent shortfalls in pledged humanitarian aid, the population of the DRC has been largely abandoned to struggle for their own survival.”

Slowly though, in some mainstream media, there have been questions of why international efforts are not seen here, especially when compared to that given to Kosovo.

An updated Oxfam report, while written back in 2001, also noted the following facts (some numbers may be out of date and have gotten worse, but the sheer scale of these numbers alone are shocking):

  • More than two million people are internally displaced; of these, over 50 per cent are in eastern DRC. More than one million of the displaced have received absolutely no outside assistance.
  • It is estimated that up to 2.5 million people in DRC have died since the outbreak of the war, many from preventable diseases.
  • At least 37 per cent of the population, approximately 18.5 million people, have no access to any kind of formal health care.
  • 16 million people have critical food needs.
  • There are 2,056 doctors for a population of 50 million; of these, 930 are in Kinshasa.
  • Infant mortality rates in the east of the country have in places reached 41 per cent per year.
  • Severe malnutrition rates among children under five have reached 30 per cent in some areas.
  • National maternal mortality is 1837 per 100,000 live births, one of the worst in the world. Rates as high as 3,000/100,000 live births have been recorded in eastern DRC.
  • DRC is ranked 152nd on the UNDP Human Development index of 174 countries: a fall of 12 places since 1992.
  • 2.5 million people in Kinshasa live on less than US$1 per day. In some parts of eastern DRC, people are living on US$0.18 per day.
  • 80 per cent of families in rural areas of the two Kivu Provinces have been displaced at least once in the past five years.
  • There are more than 10,000 child soldiers. Over 15 per cent of newly recruited combatants are children under the age of 18. A substantial number are under the age of 12.
  • Officially, between 800,000 and 900,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS.
  • 40 per cent of health infrastructure has been destroyed in Masisi, North Kivu.
  • Only 45 per cent of people have access to safe drinking water. In some rural areas, this is as low as three per cent.
  • Four out of ten children are not in school. 400,000 displaced children have no access to education.
  • Of 145,000 km of roads, no more than 2,500km are asphalt.

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More Information

For more on the conflict in this “Great Lakes” region, visit the following:

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