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Knowing is half the battle

By Lori Roley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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We're pretty much obsessed with things that aren't happening. The headlines the other day on one of the Internet's top portals announced that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were not expecting a child, and that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn weren't engaged.

And at the same time, actual things are happening, and we're barely noticing.

A study published by the Lancet, Britain's leading medical journal, reported last week that over 32,000 people die monthly in the Congo. Between 1998 and 2004, nearly 4 million people died in the African nation. Four million. The number is incomprehensible.

Some were killed in fighting from the nation's civil war. Many more died from easily preventable and treatable causes like malaria, respiratory illness, malnutrition and diarrhea. The nation's civil conflict has left its health care system in shambles; access to the most basic care is simply nonexistent.

Reports of the Lancet study were nestled in the back of most American newspapers, easy to miss. It's a story we feel like we've heard before: people far away dealing with problems on a scale we can't imagine.

I asked around on campus to find out how people felt about the recently published study. Of the five students I spoke with, only one had any idea how massive the devastation faced by the people of the Congo is right now. But everyone I spoke with had the same response: Why don't we ever hear about this?

Media outlets present news that they know their readers, watchers and listeners will deem important. There just isn't a huge demand for information about these crises.

And so people are dying by the thousands in Congo, from fighting in Sudan and from drought and famine in Niger and Malawi, and the news barely ever makes the front page.

It's definitely understandable. The massive problems faced by desperately poor nations around the world sometimes seem so insurmountable that they're painful to face head-on. They're frequently rooted in sources so numerous and complex that trying to understand what's happening seems like a lost cause.

But it's a new year, and we're trying to do all kinds of things in our lives differently. What if this were the year we made a commitment to informing ourselves about our world? Knowing what's going on is a necessary first step to being a part of any positive changes in the future.

And we urgently need those positive changes. The world is a desperate place to be right now for a lot of its residents.

As horrifying as the situation in the Congo is, it isn't an isolated one. Throughout the world, nations face epidemics of easily treatable conditions. People are dying deaths that could be prevented with just a few dollars.

According to Jeffrey Sachs, the special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals, 8 million people die each year because they are just too poor to stay alive. Like those in the Congo, they lack the resources to ensure safe drinking water, food or basic medical care.

Right now, the U.S. falls far short of providing the global aid it has already promised to nations around the world. The United Nations has only secured 42 percent of the funds it sought to redress the crisis in the Congo. And there's little to no public outcry because people simply don't know about what's going on.

Ignoring these life-and-death struggles has simply become the status quo. But it's a status quo we could see changed in our lifetimes.

Information about what's happening is a necessary corollary to action. Our proposed responses to these situations will certainly differ. But at least we'll be responding. It's time for us to rigorously pursue information about what's happening on our planet - no matter how unglamorous those situations may be. The lives we change may be our own.

Lori Foley is a senior majoring in French and English. She can be reached at

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