A peace pact signed in Africa last week generated cheers at a Carroll County-based charity where officials hope to extend their medical aid to areas that have gone years without a doctor's services.
Besides enabling volunteers to travel more safely, the agreement between leaders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo could help Interchurch Medical Assistance raise money for its aid programs, an official at the charity said.
"Peace will make a huge difference," said Dan Metzel, grants manager for the group, which is using a $25 million federal grant to re-establish Congo's health care system. "The World Bank almost certainly will help the country to start over. We also have donors waiting in the wings. They could not do much while the war was raging.
"Even IMA could not do as much of its work," he added. "Now we are seeing lots of good signs."
The grant from the federal USAID program, awarded last year, has helped the group ship 200 tons of supplies to Congo within the past few months. Forty tons of medicine have replenished clinics in 30 health zones, but much work remains undone, Metzel said last week from his organization's offices in New Windsor.
"We had some sites we were not able to access because of the fighting and some where we sent medicines but were never able to confirm that the shipments arrived," said Metzel, who was born in Congo - then called Zaire - to Presbyterian missionaries and has worked in missions there.
Congo, a country of 50 million people, is the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River. It has fewer than 2,000 miles of paved roads. Most of those are around the capital, Kinshasa, which is the largest city in central Africa.
Two decades ago, the country established a health care system that was a model for central Africa. Missionaries staffed many outposts, but the system crumbled during years of war.
Clinics, particularly those in the eastern area of the country, have been devastated. Meanwhile, the war has caused the deaths of nearly 2.5 million people, most of them from treatable conditions such as malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea. During the almost four years since fighting broke out, nearly 75 percent of newborns did not live to their second birthday, missionary workers said.
Leaders of Rwanda and Congo signed the peace agreement Tuesday to end a conflict dubbed "Africa's First World War." The fighting involved soldiers from a half-dozen nations, rebel armies and tribal warriors armed with spears and bows and arrows.
The peace pact requires rebel troops to leave Congo within 90 days.
"That's a short deadline when you consider the logistics," Metzel said. "The roads are no good, and there are dense forests."
But the missionaries are hopeful. "If things are really settling down in the Congo, we will be able to do a lot more," Metzel said.