Sunday, March 20, 2005

And then let us consider this article from the Week in Review section of today's New York Times - Beyond the Bullets and Blades. In the last few years, 3.8 million people have lost their lives in the Congo. 2 million people have died in the southern Sudan in the 21 years of fighting between rebels and the government. In Darfur, around 300,000 people have died in the last two years (and 2 million people are displaced and living in refugee camps). 100,000 people have died in northern Uganda. And this is not to speak of the many thousands of people in other parts of Africa who have died of preventable diseases like malaria, AIDS, dehydration from diarrhea.

Have we no shame? Our government is exercising itself to "save" the life of one poor woman in Florida who should be allowed to die quietly, in dignity - and ignoring the many Africans who are dying horrible deaths, much too young. Of course, it's not just our government that is to blame. Why are Catholic bishops and the leaders of other conservative Christian groups seemingly so much more upset about the life of Terry Schiavo than they are about the killing and dying in Africa? Why is Randall Terry, the leader of Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group, in Florida advising her parents, rather than trying to save lives in Africa?

For some of the details on the consequences of the wars in Africa, read on:
Horrible though the genocidal spasms in Rwanda and the aerial bombings in Sudan have been, the vast majority of those who die in African war zones are not done in directly by warriors. Rather, it is the disruption that a few thousand armed men in ragtag militias can create in the lives of millions of civilians that send so many innocents to their graves.

In recent months, aid workers have begun providing a clearer picture of exactly why so many Africans die when conflict flares. Studies of two different war zones, by Physicians for Human Rights and by the International Rescue Committee, concluded separately that the major blame lies with the conditions created by wars in extremely fragile societies.

The first killer is flight. Desperately poor people are driven from their subsistence existence into even more hostile environments as they seek safety - deep into the forest in the case of eastern Congo, across the desert into Chad to escape the unfolding violence in Darfur. Typically, the few hospitals that may exist are emptied, their supplies are looted and members of their staffs are forced to run, alongside everyone else. Fields that once fed families lie fallow. Livestock die. Relatives and neighbors who depend on each other become separated.

Dependency and depression can come to many who find their way to the relative safety of camps, and when these uprooted souls return to razed villages, there is little time to rest from the trauma. Life begins again, and now their social network of neighbors and health workers and people to trade with - the thin fibers that knit lives together for survival - may have been torn beyond repair. The numbers who die in Africa's wars are almost too high to contemplate. The fighting in Congo - an amalgam of rebel insurgencies, tribal rivalries, competition for resources and just plain butchery without a cause - has taken an estimated 3.8 million lives since 1998, making it the most deadly conflict since World War II, the International Rescue Committee estimated. Another two million lives have been lost in southern Sudan, where a war between the government and rebels ground on 21 years before a peace deal was signed in January. And Sudan's Darfur region, in the west, has lost more than 200,000 additional lives over two years of tribal pillaging. Fighting in northern Uganda, where rebels who purport to fight for the Ten Commandments abduct children to reinforce their ranks and chop off the lips and ears of those who dare resist, has taken an estimated 100,000 lives.

When I read articles like this I just feel despair. What can we do? What can I as an individual begin to work for to alleviate this vast human suffering? Any suggestions would be welcome!

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