Friday, February 12, 2010

Estimated 6.9 million lives lost in DRC conflict

When a Death Toll Rivals the Holocaust

CongoWith an estimated death toll of six million, the Holocaust is widely viewed as the singularly most devastating period in modern history. The word holocaust, derived from the Greek words meaning “burnt whole,” is now used almost exclusively to describe the state-sponsored massacre of European Jews. In the aftermath, countries came together to create the United Nations and craft international treaties intended to build a more cohesive international community that would be better prepared to respond in the future to horrors like they had just witnessed in Nazi Germany.

Yet despite the increased interconnectedness of the world and the international provisions in place to respond to humanitarian crises, the conflict in eastern Congo rages on even today without an effective international response – surpassing the Holocaust in number of years and now, even in number of lives lost.

In 2007, the International Rescue Committee, or IRC, released the results of a pivotal study, which found that 5.4 million people had died in eastern Congo since 1998. They also found that the death toll was mounting at a rate of about 45,000 people per month. But those figures are now nearly three years old. In a New York Times op-ed this week, Nick Kristof’s calculation caught my attention: “That would leave the total today, after a dozen years, at 6.9 million.”

Think about that … 6.9 million. It’s hard to fathom.

The vast majority of people who have died in eastern Congo perished from non-violent causes such as malaria, malnutrition, and other preventable diseases – symptoms of a conflict that has left Congo destabilized, its people displaced, medical services hard to come by, and food scarce. The death toll also masks the fact that an untold number of women, children, and even men who survive have suffered brutal rapes that leave lifelong physical and emotional scars.

Of course, a defining feature of the Holocaust is that a government masterminded it. What’s happening in Congo today isn’t genocide, though the legacy of genocide in neighboring Rwanda certainly lingers in the eastern Congo. There are a variety of perpetrators, motivated by ethnic tensions, the desire to control resources, opportunistic attempts to benefit from the lack of order – all facilitated by the impunity that reigns.
Furthermore, counting deaths in Congo is inherently challenging – precisely because of the violence and lack of infrastructure – as demonstrated in a recently reignited dispute over the IRC’s 2007 findings. Congo expert Jason Stearns provides an overview and his own insights, coming down in support of IRC’s initial findings, which after reading about the debate, I’m inclined to do too. (Science magazine’s blog has the full back-and-forth between IRC and the researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University who disputed IRC’s study.)

But the bottom line is that the sheer number of people who have died in eastern Congo over the past 12 years is unacceptable. Absent a public outcry to compel world leaders to make ending the conflict a priority -– by fully utilizing the tools at their disposal and finding other ways to put the pressure on those who benefit from Congo’s instability –- expect to see the death toll make new, horrific records.

We can all take action, too. Next week presents a rare opportunity to reach out to your members of Congress face to face in their home districts, and tell them that you expect U.S. leaders to take firm action to end the trade in conflict minerals that is helping to fuel the violence in eastern Congo. Visit Raise HOPE for Congo for details and to sign up for Advocacy Days during the Presidents Day recess, February 15–19, 2010.

Photo credit: Radio Okapi


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Environmental Research Letters, 5 (January-March 2010) 014010; doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/5/1/014010

Robust negative impacts of climate change on African agriculture

Wolfram Schlenker1 and David B Lobell2,*

1 Department of Economics and School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA

2 Department of Environmental Earth System Science and Program on Food Security and the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

Received 1 May 2009; accepted 27 January 2010; published 10 February 2010.


There is widespread interest in the impacts of climate change on agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and on the most effective investments to assist adaptation to these changes, yet the scientific basis for estimating production risks and prioritizing investments has been quite limited. Here we show that by combining historical crop production and weather data into a panel analysis, a robust model of yield response to climate change emerges for several key African crops. By mid-century, the mean estimates of aggregate production changes in SSA under our preferred model specification are –22, –17, –17, –18, and –8% for maize, sorghum, millet, groundnut, and cassava, respectively. In all cases except cassava, there is a 95% probability that damages exceed 7%, and a 5% probability that they exceed 27%. Moreover, countries with the highest average yields have the largest projected yield losses, suggesting that well-fertilized modern seed varieties are more susceptible to heat related losses.

Full open-access paper at this link:

About Me

My photo
If you want to follow new posts on twitter, my user name is TenneyNaumer. Blog on climate science: Climate Change -- The Next Generation, at