August 27, 2004
Current statistical assessments of the crisis in Darfur continue to diverge widely in several key respects; nowhere is this more striking than in total mortality for the past 18 months of extremely violent conflict—conflict that has produced vast numbers of displaced persons. Indeed, so great are the present differences in assessments of mortality, morbidity, and insecurity—within camps for the displaced and in rural areas—that some effort must be made to account for these divergences, and their larger significance. This is especially true of statistical assessments coming from the UN, which are both internally contradictory and typically offered without sufficient context or explanation.
Much can be attributed to the fact that the “United Nations” is not a single organization, functioning smoothly, with its various agencies working seamlessly together. On the contrary, UN agencies are highly variable in several respects, including function, size, and relation to the Khartoum regime that ultimately determines who operates in Darfur, and on what terms. Some UN agencies have performed well in Darfur and Chad; others have a mixed record; still others have performed poorly. They clearly do not always communicate well with one another.
But the essential effort to push for more effective international response in Darfur and Chad demands both greater moral clarity, as well as regular and unsparing critical scrutiny of statistical assessments in key areas.
For the Darfur crisis will not end in the foreseeable future. The Abuja (Nigeria) peace talks between the National Islamic Front and the Darfur insurgency groups have predictably stalemated on central issues; Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia proxy continues to be given a free hand by the regime, creating pervasive insecurity; in turn, the resumption of agricultural production is nowhere in sight, leaving a vast and growing food-dependent population. Huge numbers of people will be entirely food-dependent for a year or longer, even as the UN and other organizations are now adequately reaching far fewer than half those in need.
Any understanding of the nature of continuing insecurity (and consequent lack of prospective food production) must take note of an important Human Rights Watch report on the Janjaweed, issued today (August 27, 2004) in anticipation of the August 29, 2004 deadline imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1556. Human Rights Watch, in extremely authoritative detail, reports on a number of active Janjaweed camps in Darfur, several with a substantial presence of Khartoum’s regular army forces and military resources:
“The government of Sudan is permitting abusive Janjaweed militia to maintain at least 16 camps in the western region of Darfur”; “despite repeated government pledges to neutralize and disarm the Janjaweed, Human Rights Watch investigators in West and North Darfur were able to gather information on the militias’ extensive network of bases”; “throughout the time Khartoum was supposedly reining in the Janjaweed, these camps have been operating in plain sight,’ said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch”; “five of the 16 camps, according to witnesses, are camps the Janjaweed share with the Sudanese government army.” (“Sudan: Janjaweed Camps Still Active,” Human Rights Watch [New York], August 27, 2004; report available at: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2004/08/27/darfur9268.htm)
Despite clear evidence of the sort provided by Human Rights Watch, and the open contempt for the international community and the UN expressed so recently by senior members of the regime, the UN Security Council gives no sign of meaningful action, but rather will almost certainly extend the 30-day “deadline” issued on July 30, 2004 in Resolution 1556—without imposing sanctions or “other measures.” The African Union has been unable to secure permission from Khartoum to deploy a sizeable force with a peacekeeping mandate (though in a deft diplomatic change of subject, Khartoum has indicated it is willing to accept AU forces with a mandate to disarm the insurgency groups).
In short, the engine of vast human destruction remains running in high gear, and it is imperative that we seek to understand the dimensions of the catastrophe its is generating.
This “mortality update” builds on the analysis of August 13, 2004 (available upon request). The figure of 180,000 deaths suggested in this previous analysis is a statistical extrapolation, with a very large margin of error. The present analysis, like its predecessor, attempts to quantify mortality from both violence and from disease and malnutrition; it is based on UN and non-UN sources. The chief source for estimating deaths from disease and malnutrition is the epidemiological work of the US Agency for International Development (“Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, 2004-2005” (http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf), presently the only tool for global assessment of such mortality in Darfur.
VIOLENT DEATHS IN DARFUR FROM FEBRUARY 2003 TO
Any analysis of violent deaths in Darfur must begin with the data assembled by Doctors Without Borders/MSF (June 2004, the Mornei area of West Darfur), and the final report (August 6, 2004) of UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir. But we must also take particular cognizance of the findings of a study commissioned by the US State Department as part of its official (and shamefully dilatory) determination of whether genocide is occurring in Darfur.
The New York Times reports (August 25, 2004) a shocking statistic for the number of refugees reporting witnessing the killing of a family member:
“The study, conducted by State Department officials together with outside legal experts, found that nearly one-third of the refugees interviewed reported hearing racial epithets while under attack, and that nearly 60 percent of them reported having witnessed the killing of a family member.”
(New York Times, August 25, 2004)
Those who have fled to Chad may in many cases have been especially victimized by violence; but the very large number of (randomized) interviews, yielding a figure of “60 percent of [refugees] reported having witnessed the killing of a family member,” is of enormous significance. This suggests a rate much higher than the rate suggested by a different sort of statistic from Doctors Without Borders/MSF:
“A recent survey conducted by MSF and the epidemiological research center Epicentre in the town of Mornei, 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.” (Doctors Without Border/MSF, “Emergency in Darfur, Sudan: No Relief in Sight,” June 21, 2004)
This writer has previously derived from the very limited MSF data a global figure of 80,000 violent deaths for Darfur over the 18 months of the conflict. This is an estimate that presumed (ultimately arbitrarily, but presumably conservatively) that the Mornei region was characterized by 50% more violent deaths than the rest of Darfur with respect to an averaged figure for global internal displacement. But the New York Times account of the State Department-team’s findings suggests that, on the contrary, the MSF figures for Mornei may actually understate the global level of violence. The inescapable statistical inference from the two reports, viewed in conjunction with one another, is that there have been well over 100,000 violent deaths in Darfur over the course of the conflict.
This inference is given strong support by the findings of Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who reported at the end of June 2004 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)
It becomes increasingly difficult to resist the implications of such findings, as well as the extremely numerous ad hoc reports of violent deaths coming from sources throughout Darfur for well over a year. More than 100,000 people have died violent deaths—and perhaps a very great many more.
In thinking of the nature of violent deaths in Darfur, we must remember that deaths from wounds suffered during attacks must be included in this figure; so too must deaths from the trauma of extremely violent rape and gang-rape (suffered by girls as young as 8-years-old); so too must the deaths of children, the infirm, and the elderly who perished very quickly on fleeing violent attacks. Huge numbers of victims were able to take nothing in the way of water and food, and died rapidly on fleeing within areas subject to what UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland has called a “scorched-earth campaign of ethnic cleansing.” They too must be considered victims of deadly violence.
Moreover, as a physician with extensive experience in Darfur has pointed out, relying on eye-witness accounts of Janjaweed attacks will likely lead to underestimating mortality, given the nature of the conflict: “some villages will have been exterminated in their entirety, or their entire populations will have died in the mountains after fleeing”; confidential source).
Though clearly we do not know enough about the level of violent deaths in Darfur, we cannot know more without much greater access and assessment resources than are presently available. Moreover, Khartoum persists in obstructing all such efforts of inquiry, even as it continues to use very significant military and paramilitary resources (including the Janjaweed) to obscure sites of mass atrocities and executions. Air and ground transport capacity has been tasked with moving the bodies of those killed; gravesites and other evidence of genocidal violence have also been obscured with the clear intent of preventing any accurate final census of violent deaths.
In this context, given the scale of continuing violence reported so authoritatively for so many months by human rights investigators (working in both Darfur and Chad), agnosticism about the number of violent deaths is not morally acceptable. The evidence such as we have it must guide our best efforts at extrapolation and inference. A figure of over 100,000 seems a minimum in this context.
DEATHS FROM MALNUTRITION AND DISEASE: PREFACE
There are very different views of the current success of humanitarian efforts in responding to the crisis in Darfur. The range is partially suggested in the following citations:
“I feel we are slowly but surely getting on top of the health crisis [in Darfur and Chad],” spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Operations in Khartoum, August 19, 2004
“The [humanitarian situation] is slipping out of control,” Mark Zeitoun, water engineer for Oxfam, on the ground in a refugee camp in Chad, August 15, 2004
“The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Manuel Aranda Da Silva, [declared] “we could see the amount of people needing help rise exponentially over the next weeks and months.” (UN News Centre, August 25, 2004)
“The UN’s World Health Organization bulletin [August 17, 2004]
registered 363 [sic] deaths in the camps [with a total population of over 800,000] in the five weeks up to the end of July,” (Reuters, August 17, 2004) [This represents a daily mortality rate less than that for a developing country experiencing no conflict, displacement or food shortages—ER]
“‘Conditions [in the camps] are drastic. People are not getting enough water. Teams must be put together to clean latrines as it is very ad hoc now and not really managed by anyone,’ International Organization for Migration spokeswoman Niurka Pineiro told a news briefing.” (Reuters August 13, 2004)
“‘There certainly has been a marked improvement over the last month,’ [International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Julia] Bassam said” (Associated Press, August 27, 2004)
“‘The humanitarian situation in Darfur is still extremely worrying, and by all accounts could deteriorate further,’ said Poul Nielson, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development.” (Agence France-Presse/EU Business Wire, August 25, 2004)
“Stefanie Frease of the Washington-based Coalition for International Justice, which oversaw the [US State Department] study [of possible genocide in Darfur] with a grant from the US Agency for International Development [ ] said that in her personal view, ‘If you read the (1948) Genocide Convention, and you look at the definition [ ] you can definitely see the indicators there. It’s not Rwanda and it’s not the Holocaust. It’s probably a different, slower sort of genocide.” (Knight Ridder news service, August 25, 2004)
The range of views on the food crisis is perhaps less extreme (and more generally pessimistic), but finally malnutrition and health are inseparable in Darfur. If we are to assess the value of the epidemiological work of the US Agency for International Development (“Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, 2004-2005”)—which suggests statistically that approximately 130,000 people have already died from malnutrition and disease—we need to look closely at the basic methodology of the US AID projections (see separate Appendix to this analysis; available upon request), and at the current provision of food, medical treatment, clean water, and shelter for an immense “war-affected” population. Any final estimate of current mortality based on the US AID projections requires a figure of “war-affected” persons that is an appropriate denominator; this in turn requires an assessment of the primary engine that is generating “war-affected” persons, viz. displacement through violence and intimidation, as well as loss of food and agricultural capacity.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS AND REFUGEES
The first task is to estimate the number of displaced persons, in Darfur and Chad, and secondarily to estimate the necessarily greater number of “war-affected.”
How many internally displaced persons are there in Darfur? and refugees in Chad? The number in Chad may soon climb by 30,000 according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, as the highly vulnerable camp population in the Masteri area of West Darfur is poised to join the hundreds of others who have recently fled into Chad to escape continuing predations by the Janjaweed:
“The UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned Friday [August 20, 2004] that a further 30,000 displaced people were poised to flee over the border into neighboring Chad, joining 200,000 refugees already there, because of the continuing depredations by the militias.” (Agence France-Presse, August 21, 2004)
The BBC reported that “500 Darfuris crossed the border close to the Chadian village of Berak as a result of renewed violence in the Darfur region” (BBC, August 16, 2004). Earlier reports speak of many additional tens of thousands of displaced civilians within 50 kilometers of the Chad/Darfur border, who are also ready to flee the Janjaweed. In short, the number of refugees is presently in excess of 200,000 but could soon be in excess of 250,000.
Within Darfur itself, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently released an estimate of “more than 1.2 million” Internally Displaced Persons (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, August 19, 2004); in OCHA’s eyes this represented an increase of 200,000 from the July figure. But this “newly” proffered figure does not comport, as presented, with a rather different history of the figure for IDPs in Darfur, one that can easily be traced from April 2004 using the UN’s own public statements. That this in turn reveals a large understatement of the total number of current IDPs that should be cause for serious concern.
The IDP figure stood at 1 million in late April 2004, according to OCHA (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi], April 21, 2004). That figure was raised by the UN to 1.2 million in late June, and on July 8, 2004 Tom Vraalsen, the UN’s special envoy for humanitarian affairs to Sudan, declared that “more than 1.2 million [are] internally displaced” in Darfur (Reuters, July 8, 2004). But on July 20, 2004 OCHA estimated that the population of Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur had increased by 100,000 “over the past month” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 20, 2004), suggesting (in concert with Vraalsen’s July 8, 2004 statement) that the total figure already stood at approximately 1.3 million in the third week of July.
In the intervening five weeks, there have been continued reports of violence and village destruction, and accompanying human displacement; large influxes of displaced persons have been reported in the camps. Given the rate of increase from the end of June to the end of July, it may be reasonably inferred that another 100,000 have been displaced, bringing the present figure to approximately 1.4 million. Even on its own terms, the OCHA figure of “more than 1.2 million” is a serious understatement.
But as UN sources admit privately, even a figure of 1.4 million Internally Displaced Persons does not represent the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in areas controlled by the insurgency movements, or regime-controlled areas too dangerous for a humanitarian presence of any sort. In July 2004 the internal working number for this unassessed population at the UN’s World Food Program was 300,000. Many who have traveled recently to Darfur put the number far higher, with some estimates ranging up to 1 million. Thus the total displaced population in Darfur could be well over 2 million.
In the absence of a more compelling and consistent account from the UN, a conservative figure for the total of Internally Displaced Persons in Darfur and refugees in Chad is 2 million.
TOTAL NUMBER OF “WAR-AFFECTED” PERSONS
To be displaced or made into a refugee is ipso facto to be “war-affected” (and inevitably food-dependent). But the number of “war-affected” persons is clearly much larger than the total of displaced persons and refugees. Many host families are struggling to accommodate displaced persons, with foodstocks diminishing or consumed; many more have not been displaced but are unable to be agriculturally productive, or even to forage for foods that normally make up a survival diet during famine conditions.
Again, we have no way of determining with any precision a total of “war-affected” persons. But a useful point of reference is the figure of 2.2 million “war-affected” persons cited in a joint communiqu signed at a donors conference in Geneva on June 3, 2004 (signatories were representatives of the UN, the European Union, and the US). This figure continues to be cited by the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (whose materials are copyrighted by OCHA):
“The UN has described the conflict in Darfur as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, at the moment. An estimated 2.2 million people are in urgent need of food, medicine and other basic items of survival.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi] August 16, 2004)
If we use the number in the June 3, 2004 joint communiqu as a base figure, then the current estimate must be in the range of 2.5 million, and this does not include the population of over 200,000 refugees in Chad. Violence has continued, displacement has continued, and insecurity has prevented agricultural production or the deployment of survival skills in rural areas. “The number of people in critical need of humanitarian assistance has skyrocketed in Darfur in recent months, UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan Manuel Aranda Da Silva. [With new assessments underway], we could see the amount of people needing help rise exponentially over the next weeks and months.” (UN News Center, August 25, 2004).
This is in large part because foodstocks for times of need continue to dwindle. The Janjaweed have burned or destroyed huge quantifies of grain reserves, as well as looting vast numbers of livestock, which are also a key form of food insurance. This systematic destruction of food, food insurance, and the ability to be agriculturally productive, continues to increase—through primary and secondary effects—the number of “war-affected.”
The International Crisis Group, which has followed the Darfur crisis extremely closely for over a year, is currently using a figure of “more than 2.2 million” war-affected persons (“Darfur Deadline: A New International Action Plan,” page 1, August 23, 2004; available at: http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=2920).
Though OCHA in Khartoum has suggested a much lower number, it does so without addressing any of the issues raised here (especially the total number of displaced persons), and without responding to previous UN estimates. The effect is misleading:
“Meanwhile, the number of number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Darfur is now estimated at 1.48 million, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. These included 1.2 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 270,000 in host communities.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, August 18, 2004)
The figure, with its peculiar and quite unattainable precision, suggests some severe and problematic attenuation of the figure used by the UN (as well as the European Union and the US) in Geneva, by the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, and by the International Crisis Group. As it stands, it is not helpful.
If we use a figure of 2.3 million to 2.5 million “war-affected” persons as the denominator in the US Agency for International Development “Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, 2004-2005”—which currently indicates a Crude Mortality Rate of 13 per day per 10,000 of affected population—the daily mortality rate is very approximately 3,000 and the total mortality figure is well over 200,000 (presuming a total for violent deaths that is well over 100,000—see above). The number of deaths in Chad significantly increases this total.
It must be stressed again that this is a statistical extrapolation from severely inadequate data—data that cannot improve until the international community has much greater access to Darfur. But the severity of the Darfur crisis demands some effort at global inference—the more so given the existence (and continual citation) of other mortality figures, figures that may seriously mislead.
The largest alternative figure for total mortality is that offered by Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator at the US Agency for International Development: 80,000 deaths from malnutrition and disease, as well as violence (Deutsche Presse Agentur [Washington, DC], July 29, 2004). This is an extremely large figure in itself, though it makes no concerted effort to include a comprehensive figure for violent deaths. It does not address the findings of Doctors Without Borders/MSF. Moreover, the final report of UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Executions Asma Jahangir and the preliminary report from the State Department assessment team on the Chad/Darfur border were unavailable at the time that Winter made his estimate. If the number here estimated for violent deaths—well over 100,000—is used in conjunction with Winter’s more specific estimate of 50,000 dead from malnutrition and disease, the result is a total mortality figure of over 150,000 (at the bottom end of the margin of error suggested here).
The current UN figure of 30,000-50,000 was offered—without context, explanation, or differentiation in causes of death—by Jan Egeland, UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, in late July 2004. This in turn represents a significant jump from the implausibly low number of 10,000, first offered by the UN in March 2004, and which remained unchanged for four months, through most of July 2004. It is deeply troubling that the UN as a whole has made so little effort in synthesizing and updating all available data to provide a more persuasive figure for total mortality, as well as some explanation of methodology and the data deployed.
The absence of a definitive “body count” will be an insuperable obstacle for some in accepting the estimate here offered, despite a margin of error acknowledged to be very wide. Of course the UN has no “body count” either, and its figure of 30,000-50,000 is no less an inference, though from what data is entirely unclear. There can be no further help at present in overcoming this obstacle, if “counted bodies” are what is required. The great preponderance of deaths to date are from violence and the effects of malnutrition in inaccessible areas or areas in which Khartoum actively prevents assessments that might lead to mortality calculations. And even in the camps mortality data is often not kept with any real care (other tasks are too demanding), and is typically not kept in a fashion that permits easy collation with data from other camps. Moreover, little effort is made to ensure the possibility that data may be shared and used inter-organizationally.
But for anyone who has read the innumerable dispatches, wires reports, and human rights documents that have been appearing steadily for well over a year—chronicling endless, remorseless human destruction—the need for such a count may be less urgent.
The figures for displacement and the number of war-affected in this analysis are attempts to render a global picture for all of Darfur. This includes areas to which there is access, as well as the huge swathes of the region that are completely inaccessible. Here again it is important to note that most estimates of total population for Darfur are between 6 million and 7 million (though some are lower, and there are a number of complicating demographic issues); and estimates of the percentage belonging to the targeted African tribal populations are generally around 70%. This suggests that there is a population—systematically attacked and displaced over a period of 18 months—that is greater than 4 million human beings.
Aerial and satellite imagery, as well as reports from humanitarian organizations on the ground and from Darfurian sources, suggest that well over 50% of the African villages have been destroyed (see International Crisis Group, “Darfur Deadline: A New International Action Plan,” page 1, August 23, 2004). Some estimates are over 75%. And many more people who haven’t been directly displaced by violence have simply abandoned vulnerable villages in anticipation of attacks by Khartoum and its Janjaweed militia.
Where are all these people?
They certainly aren’t in the camps, which hold over 1 million people at this point (including the camps in Chad), but well under 1.5 million. Where are the other 2.5 million to 3 million people of the African tribal groups that are trying to survive without food or humanitarian assistance? These people have been left without the ability to use traditional foraging methods and coping strategies because of the threat posed by marauding Janjaweed forces. If we address this large issue honestly, the mortality projections from the US Agency for International Development are much more readily comprehended (again, see separate Appendix to this analysis; available upon request).
The humanitarian response in Darfur has begun to address the issue, as suggested by an important shift in emphasis by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from the camps to presently inaccessible villages:
“Dominik Stillhart, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Sudan, told reporters in Geneva that up to a quarter of the 4-5 million people still living in Darfur’s villages were ‘extremely vulnerable and in urgent need of aid.'” (Reuters, August 27, 2004)
This reference to “villages” outside the context of their massive, systematic destruction throughout all three states in Darfur Province is seriously misleading, but there can be no doubting the huge number of former inhabitants of these villages who are not in camps, who are without resources, and who are in extreme need of humanitarian assistance.
Still another part of the grim picture of total mortality in Darfur is what a physician with extensive experience in the region calls “deferred mortality.” This derives from the consequences of “lifelong impairment after experiencing severe malnutrition”; in the case of mothers, this will result in future distortions of the lactating cycle: “a second child will receive breastfeeding before the first child is ready to wean”; confidential source). This same physician points out that chronic undercounting of children under the age of one in regions like Darfur (where infants are often not named until they reach the age of one) is also likely to skew present and subsequent mortality estimates, since this undercounting creates an artificially low infant population base figure.
Even if we assume a margin of error as large as 30% in the total mortality figure offered here, this nonetheless presents the world with an exceedingly grim number: at least 150,000 people have died in Darfur and Chad to date—and the number grows relentlessly, with huge additional mortality threatened by disease (Hepatitis E, now apparently chronic in the camps, cholera, which has still not made its appearance but could at any moment, dysentery, and malaria, which is now exploding), and the cumulative effects of intensifying malnutrition.
The UN World Food Program fell short of reaching the 1 million people targeted for food assistance in July; August deliveries were to have been to 1.2 million but are unlikely to reach as many people as were helped in July—and the figure for September, another very rainy month, is now 2 million (this does not include refugees in Chad). Logistical and transport capacity problems are increasing, even as the rains intensify. There is nothing approaching the monthly capacity to move the required 35,000-40,000 metric tons of food and critical non-food items into and within Darfur and Chad. The rail line into Nyala, in a chronically poor state of repair, recently collapsed over a rain-swollen wadi. International donor response continues to be woefully inadequate, and all major humanitarian initiatives are badly under-funded.
Without the ability to forage (because of insecurity), these people simply have no way to feed themselves. Children, already weakened by months of trauma and displacement, will be especially vulnerable and will inevitably continue to die in huge numbers. Because no improvement in the security situation is in prospect, we may expect mortality to continue to rise at extreme rates, rates far greater than the international community is prepared at present to admit.
We apparently will not offer the people of Darfur even the dignity of acknowledging their deaths. Their genocidal destruction has been refused the face of its true horror. This is genocide variously assisted by understatement, euphemizing, self-exculpation, and political weakness. It is beyond disgrace, and certainly beyond forgiveness.