July 6, 2004
What is the level of current human destruction in Darfur? How many people have already died? For months the UN has offered the figure of 10,000—with no account of methodology or explanation of the meaning of this figure. Given the vast numbers defining the crisis in Darfur and Chad, this seems both implausibly low and disturbingly static. 2.2 million people are now defined by the US, the UN, and the European Union as “war-affected. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is using documents internally that indicate a refugee population in Chad of over 180,000 people (and this almost certainly still understates the population significantly). 1.1 million have been internally displaced in Darfur.
How likely is it that following 17 months of conflict, vast violent displacement, mass executions, and growing severe malnutrition and disease, a figure of 10,000 dead is of any real use in quantifying realities in Darfur? We may ask this question in the context of a number of reports, findings, and other data. Some of the most significant are briefly noted and assessed below.
Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, reported recently that the “number of black Africans killed by Arab militias in the Darfur region of Sudan is ‘bound to be staggering'”:
“Ms. Jahangir said that during her visit, ‘nearly every third or fourth family’ she spoke to in the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) within Darfur had lost a relative to the militias. ‘It’s very hard to say [accurately] how many people have been killed,’ she said, but interviews with IDPs indicated it would be ‘quite a large number. They are bound to be staggering.'” (UN News Centre, June 29, 2004)
This finding alone indicates a huge number of dead—certainly many times the figure of 10,000 if we may take as statistically representative Ms. Jahangir’s finding that, “‘nearly every third or fourth family’ she spoke to in the camps for internally displaced people within Darfur had lost a relative to the militias.”
Doctors Without Border/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has also recently released important epidemiological research on violence committed against the African populations of Darfur:
“A recent survey conducted by MSF and the epidemiological research center Epicentre in the town of Mornay, West Darfur State, where nearly 80,000 people have sought refuge, found that one in 20 people were killed in scorched earth attacks on 111 villages from September 2003 until February 2004. Adult men were the primary victims, but women and children were also killed. Today, one in five children in the camp are severely malnourished while irregular and insufficient food distributions do not come close to meeting the basic needs of people weakened by violence, displacement, and deprivation.” (Doctors Without Border/Medecins Sans Frontieres, “Emergency in Darfur, Sudan: No Relief in Sight,” June 21, 2004; release at http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/pr/2004/06-21-2004.shtml).)
If we make the very conservative assumption that the Mornay region has been especially violent, and that the 1 in 20 figure overstates by 50% the global death rate for armed killings in Darfur, this still implies (for a displaced population of 1.3 million) that over 40,000 people had been violently killed between September 2003 and February 2004 (this represents a weekly casualty figure of approximately 1,600). In the more than four months (18 weeks) since the end of February, violent killings have continued to be reported on a very wide-scale throughout Darfur, especially in March and April, subsiding recently only because the destruction of African villages is now largely completed. Many people were of course killed violently before September 2003 (the insurgency conflict broke out in February 2003; Janjaweed attacks on civilians accelerated dramatically in the late spring of 2003). These data aggregated (including the implied weekly casualty rate) suggest a very approximate figure of 80,000 killed violently in the course of the war.
For the past three months, according to data from the US Agency for International Development (http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf), mortality from malnutrition and disease has been rising for the larger population of “war-affected” (2.2 to 2.3 million). The Global Mortality Rate has moved from 1 death per day per 10,000 (early May) to 3 per day per 10,000 (early June) to 4 deaths per day per 10,000 (currently). During these approximately thirteen weeks alone, mortality from malnutrition and disease in the larger “war-affected” population is approximately 40,000.
These data (and the numerical conclusion) are supplemented by recent predictions of disease mortality from the UN’s World Health Organization, predictions that are already relevant to estimates of current mortality levels:
“Some 10,000 people in Darfur could die of cholera and dysentery in July alone unless a massive aid operation can be set up to helicopter in food and medicines. ‘We anticipate that if things go ahead as at the moment, 10,000 people will die in the next month,’ David Nabarro, head of the World Health Organization’s unit for health action in crises, told a news briefing in Geneva after a trip to Darfur.” (Reuters, July 2, 2004)
The World Health Organization also warned that,
“A cholera epidemic could break out within weeks now that heavy rains have begun, striking 200,000 to 300,000 of the more than one million displaced in the troubled western area of Sudan, a top WHO official told a news briefing. Cholera is an extreme form of watery diarrhoea which killed tens of thousands of Rwandans who fled genocide in 1994, according to the WHO. Dysentery, a bloody form of diarrhoea which is harder to treat, and malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, would be expected to follow in August.” (Reuters, July 2, 2004)
Malaria—an often fatal disease among weakened populations—is also already claiming lives, as the rains have produced numerous ponds that are the breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that carry the disease (and much more readily in crowded camp conditions). The UN has recently reported a sharp uptick in malaria cases.
Given the severe limits on humanitarian access, more global assessments of various populations in the three Darfur states have not been undertaken. The data above are representative of all that we have. But given the scale of the human catastrophe in Darfur, and the thoroughly implausible figure of 10,000 offered by the UN, statistical inferences concerning current total mortality are demanded.
The data above, in aggregate, yield a total civilian mortality figure to date of approximately 120,000.
Northampton, MA 01063