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Crisis in the Congo

By Keith Martin, The Windsor Star
August 29, 2009

Recently, we marked World Humanitarian Day, and it is not good enough for us to congratulate ourselves on our humanitarian successes of the past.

We should use this day to mobilize resources to stop the gross humanitarian disasters that continue to destroy the lives of the poorest people on the planet. None of these crises are more appalling and neglected than the brutality that continues to fester in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

In the eastern part of this vast country, a staggering 1,000 people die every day from largely preventable causes. More than six million have perished in the last eight years alone. In some communities, a shocking 70 per cent of the women have been subjected to extreme sexual violence; gang-raped or violated with bayonets and other sharp objects, causing death or lifelong disabilities. This conflict has been rooted in a battle over the mother lode of natural resources that lie beneath its soil. Diamonds, gold and rare minerals are plentiful. However, few of these minerals are more important than coltan, which is an essential element in the production of the computers, cellphones and other electronic equipment we use in our daily lives. Interestingly, many of the mining companies operating in this region are Canadian.

In the midst of this turmoil is the HEAL Africa hospital, which was started in 1996 by the Congolese orthopedic surgeon, Jo Lus, and his wife. The hospital is the most prominent institution working against sexual violence in the DRC, and is the only recognized tertiary referral hospital for the entire eastern part of the country. However, it is in dire need to expand its facilities to meet the increasing demand on its services. U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton even visited the hospital on her visit to Africa this past week. She witnessed the extraordinary work the hospital is doing repairing the traumatic fistulas women receive when they are raped, treating the machete and gunshot victims, caring for those affected by a myriad of tropical diseases that are curable if treated and fatal if not.

I have written to the Canadian mining companies working in the Congo to contribute some monies for the HEAL Africa project. The monies are modest. The total amount required to provide better infant, maternal and emergency care is less than $2 million. This to help a population in excess of five million. Providing some of these monies would be a modest act of corporate social responsibility, given the profits these companies are earning in the midst of this suffering. So far, none of these companies have even acknowledged receipt of the letter.

Canadian mining companies do have a responsibility to help the Congolese people who live in the midst of the operations that generate the profits these firms enjoy. It would be a stroke of leadership if our companies took the opportunity to give back and provide some of the resources needed to help save the lives of those enduring the cruelest, yet most neglected humanitarian disaster in the world.

Keith Martin is MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca and the Liberal critic for amateur sport.

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