Quantifying Genocide in Darfur: Numbers/Statistics/Projections;
What We Know and How We Know It [Part I]
June 11, 2004
The human catastrophe in Darfur has moved slowly to the fore of international attention, even occasioning a bland statement [June 10, 2004] by the G-8 powers meeting in Georgia (US). At the same time, there is considerable confusion in the information presented as descriptive of the crisis: numbers and statistical generalizations fluctuate, they often vary considerably, and are sometimes simply self-contradictory. The unfortunate effect is to reduce overall understanding of the crisis and the dynamic that underlies the accelerating catastrophe. This in turn makes the moral and legal imperative of humanitarian intervention less obvious, even as the data in aggregate make clear that such intervention is all that will save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Much of the confusion stems from a lack of on-the-ground presence. This is in part a function of severe insecurity, deriving from Khartoum’s failure to control its Janjaweed militia allies. But the primary cause is Khartoum’s continuing deliberate obstruction of humanitarian and news access, creating enormous difficulties in rendering accurate assessments of the situation in Darfur.
What follows here is a comprehensive overview of statistical information from the most reliable, current, and best-informed sources. The data is presented in a series of categories: current mortality; projected mortality; internal displacement; displacement into Chad; “war-affected” population; percentage of the displaced in camps with humanitarian access; humanitarian requirements for known populations of “war-affected”; current transport capacity. These are not seamless categories, and data from one category often shape the significance of data in another category.
But some order must be brought to the current statistical chaos. Even so, it is important to recognize that much information is not quantifiable—or takes the form of global generalizations that will derive their full meaning only when we know the numbers involved.
For example, an assessment team from Physicians for Human Rights recently returned from the Chad/Darfur border and reported:
“‘Humanitarian workers with years of experience in Africa told us that these are the worst conditions that they have seen, by far, for conducting humanitarian relief,’ said Jennifer Leaning, a Physicians for Human Rights board member and expert on humanitarian disasters. ‘Seasoned aid workers in Chad have reached a dangerous consensus, they know that time is not on their side,’ said Leaning.” (Physicians for Human Rights press release, June 11, 2004)
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) offers another example of global generalization, warning that there are in Darfur “already high levels of excess deaths and malnutrition, [and] the whole population is teetering on the verge of mass starvation.” (“On the Brink of Mass Starvation in Darfur,” Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres [New York], May 20, 2004)
And in yet another example, deputy director of the UN World Food Programme in Chad, Jean-Charles Dei has very recently warned that the tens of thousands of children and vulnerable people who have fled to Chad are at extremely acute risk:
“[Dei] said the rains would also bring inevitable outbreaks of disease, including cholera and measles. ‘There will be a tragedy if nothing happens. [ ] I don’t think any of the children under the age of five will make it, and the pregnant women too. For those who are under five there is no chance. They will die from starvation.'” (The Scotsman [dateline: Chad/Darfur border], June 10, 2004)
Tellingly, as indicated below, the figure for refugees in Chad is one of the most variable in the Darfur crisis and has been badly confused by the UN High Commission for Refugees, and consequently in news reporting. Wildly contradictory numbers still come from a UN bureaucracy that cannot seem to make order out of various internal sources of information.
But Darfur permits of no gratuitous confusion or misapprehension. The data, though far from complete and not susceptible of definitive interpretation, provide a more than adequate basis for assessing humanitarian needs—and the grim task of quantifying genocide. For there can no longer be any reasonable doubt that Khartoum’s conduct of war in Darfur entails many actions specifically instanced as the defining terms of Article 2 of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:
“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
[a] Killing members of the group;
[b] Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
[c] Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
[d] Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
[e] Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
QUANTIFYING GENOCIDE IN DARFUR [IN TWO PARTS]
 Present mortality figure in Darfur conflict/humanitarian crisis.
For several months during the Darfur crisis (from December 2003 through March 2004) the UN cited an implausibly low figure of 3,000 total deaths in the entire Darfur conflict. The meaning of this figure was never clarified (was it actual recorded deaths, with names and dates and attackers?). Nor was explanation offered at the time of a subsequent and precipitous increase to what stands as the current UN figure: 10,000 dead (announced by Mukesh Kapila, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, at the end of his tenure in March 2004, and thus badly out of date). This unexplained and still implausibly low figure continues to be cited by news and other sources, typically for lack of research and the absence of a rival figure.
In January 2004, Sudan Focal Point/Africa published a Monthly Briefing that cited data gathered by Sudan Focal Point researchers working on the Chad/Darfur border. The data suggested a much more plausible figure of 30,000 casualties (as of early January). Many hundreds of thousands had by this point been violently displaced in Darfur; brutal destruction on a scale that is still only coming into view had already been carried out. People perishing in their treks across the desert and open spaces would have had only family and companions in flight to record their deaths.
In short, while the UN figure of 3,000 appears to have been based on actual recorded deaths (i.e., body counts), the Sudan Focal Point research recognized the obvious importance of inferring from data available to larger conclusions about current mortality. Given the plausibility of the 30,000 figure in the context of massive displacement and violence over many months, and the deliberately destructive designs of the attacks by Khartoum’s regular and Arab militia forces (the Janjaweed), it must stand as the best base-line number for calculation of a present mortality figure.
Current mortality rates, as suggested by data from the US Agency for International Development (US AID) and humanitarian organizations conducting nutritional studies, are in the range of 600 per day. This figure—for the second week of June 2004—derives from extremely important and carefully assembled data on the Crude Mortality Rate for Darfur, represented by graph (see data for “Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur,” from the US Agency for International Development: http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf; hereafter, “US AID Mortality Rates”). Underlying the Crude Mortality Rate (measured in deaths per 10,000 per day for the affected population) is the Global Malnutrition Rate (GMR).
Ominously, the GMR—according to nutritional studies by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Save the Children (UK), and other humanitarian organizations—is rising more steeply than as represented on the “US AID Mortality Rates” graph (produced in April 2004). This strongly suggests that the accompanying Crude Mortality Rate (CMR) is also rising more quickly, although this is more difficult to ascertain. (See MSF nutritional study results from the Garsila, Mukjar, Bindissi, Deleij, and Um Kher areas of West Darfur; published May 20, 2004 at http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/pr/2004/05-20-2004.shtml).
If we combine the data from Sudan Focal Point of January 2004 (which suggested, given the course of the war, a weekly mortality rate of 1,000 at that time) and the current data suggesting a present weekly morality rate of approximately 4,000, a reasonable statistical inference is that 50,000 people have perished between early January and early June. Added to the Sudan Focal Point figure of 30,000 casualties, this yields a very approximate figure of 80,000 dead. This is eight times the current UN figure, which is undefended and unexplained by UN officials in public pronouncement or confidential communications.
 Projected mortality figure for Darfur.
The number of people who will die from the Darfur genocide is impossible to predict, even as it is imperative that we bear in mind the inevitably massive scale of human destruction. We can be sure that Ramiro Lopes da Silva, UN World Food Program Country Director for Sudan, is right in declaring that “the situation in Darfur is becoming more critical every day; the worst is still to come” (Agence France-Presse, June 7, 2004). But how much worse is the question.
Annette Weber, an Amnesty International Sudan researcher just back from the Chad/Darfur border, and who recently attended the international donors conference in Geneva to discuss Darfur, declared that “there are 350,000 people who are most likely to die in this period [the rainy season]” (The Guardian, June 4, 2004).
And most ominously, Andrew Natsios, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, declared last week
“‘We estimate right now if we get relief in, we’ll lose a third of a million people, and if we don’t the death rates could be dramatically higher, approaching a million people,’ said US Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Andrew Natsios after a high-level UN aid meeting [in Geneva].” (Agence France-Presse, June 3, 2004)
The total mortality figure for the Darfur crisis will be known only after the genocide is over. But the relentless forces of destruction have been set deliberately in motion, and people are already dying at a rate of 4,000 per week (see above). Even so, the real human destruction will not begin until famine fully arrives, as well as the epidemics that accompany famine (both will be exacerbated by the current rainy season).
The figure from Amnesty International’s Weber is of most immediate concern, tying as it does 350,000 deaths to the next 120 days or so of the rainy season. This implies an average daily mortality figure of 3,000 during a period normally referred to as the “hunger gap,” the time before the next harvest, during which foodstocks typically run low. But when the rainy season ends in early October 2004, there will be no harvest, because there has been no spring planting—this because of Khartoum’s “reign of terror” in the countryside (the phrase comes from a UN human rights report on Darfur).
As a consequence, data from the “US AID Mortality Rates” indicate a continuing Global Acute Malnutrition Rate rising to 40% of the affected population in December 2004. The accompanying Crude Mortality Rate will at that time reach 20 deaths per 10,000 per day for the affected population. Since the current figure for this affected population is 2.2 million (the UN figure is currently 2 million; see below), this implies a catastrophic mortality rate of over 4,000 deaths per day.
But in fact the daily death rate may be lower, as many of these 2.2 million will have died previously, as suggested by the prediction of Amnesty International’s Weber. Even so, the number of war-affected continues to grow rapidly, and may well reach to a cumulative total of 3 million or more. It is at this point that the “US AID Mortality Rates” cumulative death-rate figure of 30% becomes important: if the “war-affected” population grows to 3 million over the course of the crisis, if humanitarian efforts cannot get sufficient relief in, then the “cumulative death” figure would in fact approach 1 million human beings.
Obviously humanitarian relief in Darfur is not all or nothing. There are important and ongoing humanitarian efforts at present. But there is not nearly enough humanitarian capacity for the impending famine and explosion of water-borne diseases. In particular, there is not nearly enough pre-positioned food, or adequate transport capacity for the food and medical supplies that will be needed (see below).
Moreover, continuing obstructionism by Khartoum; continuing insecurity in rural areas (bringing agricultural production to a halt for the foreseeable future); the consequences of seasonal rains cutting key road arteries for relief efforts; the desperate under-funding of relief efforts, and mismanagement by the UN agencies (especially the UN High Commission for Refugees in Chad); the failure of the UN Secretary-general and the UN Security Council to respond to Darfur with appropriate urgency—collectively these additional obstacles to adequate relief ensure that there will be, as Administrator Natsios suggests, between a third of a million and a million human casualties in this genocide.
 The number of persons displaced, within Darfur and into Chad.
[a] Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
Though news reports seem to pick and choose among the various figures that have been used in recent months (ranging from 650,000 to 1 million), the UN itself—in virtually all reports—now uses a figure of over 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Indeed, the figure had risen to 1 million in April, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):
“The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan’s western region of Darfur has risen to one million, the United Nations said on Tuesday.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi], April 21, 2004)
This number is also supported by research from the UN World Health Organization, the International Rescue Committee, and other humanitarian and human rights organizations. All information from all sources indicates that this number continues to rise. For example, in its most recent update on Darfur, US AID said that according to its workers in Darfur, “large numbers of IDPs have recently fled violence east of Geneina, West Darfur” (US AID “Darfur—Humanitarian Emergency, June 4, 2004 fact sheet). Numerous reports, many from the ground, also indicate large and continuing displacements south and southeast of Nyala in South Darfur.
Data available suggest that the number of internally displaced persons is over 1.1 million, perhaps well over this number.
[b] Refugees in Chad
The number of refugees in Chad has continually been underestimated by the UN, with particularly dire consequences for humanitarian relief planning. The number 110,000 was cited for many months—long after it had obviously become inaccurate because of the continuing stream of refugees into Chad. An effort to correct the number and make sense of the continuing influx of refugees was clearly necessary. Moreover, since the UN had failed to count many refugees simply because they were not in UN High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) camps (source: UN aid worker in Chad; confidential e-mail), a more comprehensive census was also required.
In late May, Refugees International released a report of its research on refugees in Chad fleeing from Darfur:
“‘After completing a two-week assessment mission to eastern Chad, Refugees International has concluded that the real number of Darfur refugees there is around 200,000, not the 110,000 planning figure that has been used by the United Nations and aid agencies,’ said Refugees International. Donors would also need to respond with urgency to the appeal, [the organization] added.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi] May 21, 2004)
UNHCR offered a fumbling response:
“A spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kitty McKinsey, told IRIN that UNHCR was currently working with the figure of 125,000 refugees. ‘We are aware that the actual figure may be higher,’ she said. ‘We are working urgently with our Chadian partners to put together more accurate figures.'”
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi] May 21, 2004)
Elsewhere in the UN system, however, there was a more comprehending and useful response:
“Laura Melo, a spokeswoman for the World Food Programme (WFP), said the organisation was ‘currently revising its appeal and its working figures’ to address the increasing needs in Chad. ‘The budget revision that is prepared targets a number close to the one [200,000 refugees] referred to by Refugees International,’ she said, adding that the document was not finalised yet.”
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi] May 21, 2004)
It is clear from many assessments along the Chad/Sudan border that this gross and persistent UN underestimation has had very serious and deleterious consequences for planning and in providing for the refugee population (most particularly in moving refugees westward, away from the volatile border area). Some of the problems derive from deficiencies in funding; others from misjudgments and ineptitude.
We catch a glimpse of these consequences in the response of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to the situation in Chad refugee camps:
“[According to MSF], malnutrition inside the refugee camps is actually worse than outside because they are so overcrowded. Sanitation facilities in most of the camps were also ‘totally inadequate,’ said the agency last week.
In one camp there was one latrine per 400 refugees. ‘This is 20 times greater than the international standard of a maximum of 20 people per latrine. It’s absolutely unacceptable.’ Although UNHCR and international NGOs had had teams on the ground in Chad for months, progress had been ‘painfully slow’ as the crisis escalated, said MSF, noting that sufficient shelter, food and water had not been organised, and that some of the camps were filled to double their capacity.”
(UN Integrated Regional Information Networks [Nairobi] May 21, 2004)
And still the numbers in Chad grow. In its most recent “fact sheet” (June 10, 2004) on Darfur, US AID notes that “the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that hundreds of new refugees are arriving around the Chadian border town of Adre, reportedly fleeing new fighting outside Geneina in West Darfur.”
[END PART I]