Some wars go on killing long after they end. In Congo, a nation of 63 million people in the heart of Africa, a peace deal signed more than three years ago was supposed to halt a war that drew in belligerents from at least eight other countries, producing a record of human devastation unmatched in recent history. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) estimates that 3.9 million people have died from war-related causes since the conflict in Congo began in 1998, making it the world's most lethal conflict since World War II.
Yet Congo's troubles rarely make daily news headlines, and the country is often low on international donors' lists of places to help. After Sudan, Congo is the second largest nation in sub-Saharan Africa, a land so vast and ungovernable that it has long been perceived as the continent's ultimate hellhole, the setting for Joseph Conrad's 1899 book Heart of Darkness. It is in part because of that malign reputation--and because the nation's feckless rulers have consistently reinforced it--that the world has been willing to let Congo bleed. Since 2000, the U.N. has spent billions on its peacekeeping mission in Congo, which is known by its French acronym, MONUC, and it is at the moment the largest U.N. force anywhere in the world. But troops number just 17,500, a tiny presence in such a large country. In February the U.N. and aid groups working in Congo asked for $682 million in humanitarian funds. So far, they have received just $94 million--or $9.40 for every person in need. By comparison, the aid group Oxfam estimates that the U.N.'s tsunami appeal last year raised $550 for each person.