Sitting on a bed in a refugee camp in Katanga, a cursed province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaïre), Mukeya Ulumba, 28, recounts the epic losses she has suffered in recent months. Several of her relatives and neighbors were killed when antigovernment rebels stormed their village last November, moving from house to house in a murder spree that lasted for hours. Ulumba and her husband managed to flee with their four children, leaving behind their life's possessions, a ravaged community of torched houses and the bloodied corpses of family members and friends. Now Ulumba is struggling to save another life: that of her 6-month-old son Amoni Mutombo. The baby lies whimpering in a clinic run by the aid organization Doctors Without Borders. His belly is distended by malnutrition, and although he appears to be in pain, he has no energy to cry. A nurse tries for half an hour to inject antibiotics into Amoni's twiglike arm, its wrinkled skin wrapped loosely around the bones. Without the drugs, he will die, wasting away from starvation.
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.
By conventional measures, that conflict is over. Congo is no longer the playground of foreign armies. The country's first real election in 40 years is scheduled to take place this summer, and international troops have arrived to keep the peace. But the suffering of Congo's people continues. Fighting persists in the east, where rebel holdouts loot, rape and murder. The Congolese army, which was meant to be both symbol and protector in the reunited country, has cut its own murderous swath, carrying out executions and razing villages. Even deadlier are the side effects of war, the scars left by years of brutality that disfigure Congo's society and infrastructure. The country is plagued by bad sanitation, disease, malnutrition and dislocation. Routine and treatable illnesses have become weapons of mass destruction. According to the IRC, which has conducted a series of detailed mortality surveys over the past six years, 1,250 Congolese still die every day because of war-related causes--the vast majority succumbing to diseases and malnutrition that wouldn't exist in peaceful times. In many respects, the country remains as broken, volatile and dangerous as ever, which is to say, among the very worst places on earth.