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Congo, with 4 million dead, watches the world aid Asia

KINSHASA, Congo -- Even now, as thousands of children die each week from drinking dirty water and not having enough food, and the people of once-thriving communities hide like the hunted in the forests, the Congolese expect little from the world's big spenders.

But as Congo watches the global scramble to raise billions in aid for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami, many here wonder why Asian suffering stirs action while African suffering is greeted largely with apathy.

The International Rescue Committee, based in New York, said nearly 4 million people have been killed in Congo since the start of five-year war in 1998, most from war-induced disease and starvation. Fighting persists in the county's east, the epicenter of the war, and 1,000 are dying each day, half of them younger than 5.

The tsunami, in comparison, has killed an estimated 150,000 as of yesterday. The disaster was a sudden scourge of nature, while Congo's toll has accumulated slowly, at the hands of man.

"Over the last six years, millions of people have died here from this war," said Kudura Kasongo, spokesman for President Joseph Kabila. "In Asia, they're dying too, and getting money. Why is this?"

"In Asia, Westerners are also dying alongside them, perhaps that's why," Kasongo said.

Led by $810 million from Australia, the victims of the Indian Ocean tragedy have received a total of nearly $4 billion in pledges.

In 2004, Humanitarian aid for Congo was $188 million, roughly $3 per person, the International Rescue Committee said.

"Asia's crisis is temporary, but here we have a permanent catastrophe," said Ingele Ifoto, a government minister who recently headed a program to return 32,000 displaced people from Congo's dense northern Equateur Province. Many were found roaming naked through the wilds, their clothing rotted off.

On Thursday, Gordon Brown, head of Britain's Treasury, called on the world's richest nations to contribute an additional $50 billion to the world's poorest countries, particularly in Africa. Prime Minister Tony Blair described the situation in Africa as "the equivalent of a man-made, preventable tsunami every week."

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