Monday, September 18, 2006

Darfur: the politics of mortality figures

The politically-charged and potentially lethal business of putting an exact figure of the number of victims in Darfur has raised its head again. Reuters just ran a story on some new mortality figures released in the academic journal Science, in an article called "Death in Darfur."

"We conclude that the death toll in Darfur is conservatively estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands of people," John Hagan and Alberto Palloni write in their report. "There is no census data, there is no counting of the bodies and so we use surveys to try and set our foundation of the knowledge," Hagan said.

"What we have done is to take seven of these surveys, five of them done by the Medecins Sans Frontieres ... two done by the World Health Organization," Hagan said. "By spreading them out, initially you can get very good information on one of the three (affected) states, West Darfur, for the 19-month period. "So that's the foundation of our initial estimate. And then we build out from that to 31 months by using additional survey information from last or most recent WHO surveys."

Hagan said in West Darfur, 1 million displaced people represented about 65,000 deaths. "We figure out a ratio of displacement to death, we apply that to three states and that gets us to the estimate of about 200,000 who have died in 31 months across the three states," he said. "A similar process is occurring in each of the three states."

The timing of the report is poignant, coming at a time when the world is unifying to pressure Khartoum into accepting UN peacekeepers into Darfur to replace the AU troops departing end September. As has happened in the past with previous mortality surveys in Darfur, one can be sure that death threats will ensue--Khartoum's preferred disincentive for anyone daring to quantify cumulative mortality in Darfur.

This morning, BBC reported on the Vigils held for Darfur in over 30 cities across the planet yesterday. Khartoum of coursed dismissed the cacophony of international condemnation as media-inspired mass hysteria, clearly out of touch with the 'reality on the ground'. The truth of the matter, according to Khartoum, is one of a rebel insurgency requiring a forceful riposte from government military. What they consistently fail to answer, let alone address, is why so much killing and raping of civilians at the hands of government soldiers and their paramilitaries, the Janjawid?

As someone who has visited all three Darfur states extensively, I dont know if I'd call it genocide, but it definitely qualifies as a state-sponsored war on civilians.

No possessions / Marian Mohamed Ahmed
"I arrived here two months ago with only the clothes I was wearing. We fled when the government troops and Janjaweed killed some of my relatives. They took our animals. I think they attacked because of the colour of our skin – only black tribes are attacked."

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