The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has cost more lives than any other since World War II, the New York-based aid agency, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a report released on Tuesday.
In a survey carried out between August 1998, when the war began, and November 2002, the IRC estimated that at least 3.3 million Congolese died. The agency said its study showed the mortality rate in the DRC to be higher than UN reports for any other country in the world.
George Rupp, the president of the IRC, said: "This is a humanitarian catastrophe of horrid and shocking proportions. The worst mortality projections in the event of a lengthy war in Iraq, and the death toll from all the recent wars in the Balkans, don't even come close. Yet the crisis has received scant attention from international donors and the media."
The IRC said it was able to measure mortality among 9.3 million people in 10 districts in eastern DRC, and among 31.2 million in 10 districts in the west. Its findings showed that 30,000 "excess deaths" occurred every month in the ongoing conflict. Most of these deaths were attributed to easily treatable diseases and malnutrition, and were often linked to displacement and the collapse of the country's health services and economy.
In eastern DRC, the IRC noted, health conditions were worse than in the west, with children under five particularly vulnerable. A survey carried out in three of the 10 areas in the east visited by the IRC found that more than 50 per cent of children under five died before the age of two years.
However, the IRC said the rate of violent death in eastern DRC dropped dramatically in 2002, compared to the three previous years.
The IRC called for "a diplomatic and humanitarian response in proportion to the magnitude of the crisis" in the DRC.
The full report can be found on the IRC's website at