Friday, July 30, 2004


Current data for total mortality from violence, malnutrition, and

Eric Reeves
July 30, 2004

There have been two recent estimates of total mortality in Darfur, both
many times higher than the previous UN figure of 10,000. This latter
figure was first offered, without accompanying explanation, in March
2004 and has remained unchanged for the past four months. Unfortunately
both new figures also come with too little explanation of statistical
methodology or of the data actually used in calculating mortality.
Moreover, both estimates continue to understate the degree of human
destruction in Darfur. For a collation of the most comprehensive data
available from humanitarian organizations operating in Darfur, as well
as epidemiological data governing the mortality projections of the US
Agency for International Development, suggests that current mortality
exceeds 150,000 dead.

This figure is of course an estimate---a tenuous extrapolation from the
very limited data available, and cannot be confirmed or made more
precise until security in Darfur permits much more comprehensive
statistical sampling. The margin of error is very wide. But the figure
offered here does attempt to include populations within camps for the
displaced as well as those outside the camps. It includes not only the
1.3 million that the UN estimates are internally displaced in Darfur,
but the more than 200,000 who have fled to Chad. It also attempts to
take some cognizance of the larger total population of African tribal
groups in Darfur---a population that is very seldom referred to globally
in any statistical context.

In other words, the large mortality number offered here implicitly
presumes (as do US AID mortality projections) that our focus must be on
the entire population at risk in Darfur, not simply those who have been
counted as displaced or assessed as "war-affected" (many organizations
on the ground, overwhelmed by the critical tasks at hand, have simply
stopped counting or registering new displaced persons). For there is a
good deal of evidence that the estimated figure of 1.3 million
internally displaced persons in Darfur is far below the actual number;
there is also a good deal of evidence that the number of "war-affected"
persons has grown to well in excess of the 2.2 million announced by the
UN, the US, and the European Union in Geneva almost two months ago (June
3, 2004).

The population of Darfur is roughly 6.5 million; over 4 million are
from the "African"/"non-Arab" tribal groups that have been so
relentlessly targeted by Khartoum and its Arab militia allies. These
people make up the overwhelming majority of those killed, displaced, and
at risk. Thus the unstated but highly troubling implication of a figure
of 1.5 million displaced (internally and into Chad) is that more than
2.5 million have not been displaced---are somehow still living in their
villages and smaller towns, as well as the larger towns of Darfur.
Given the massive scale of destruction of African villages---now clearly
evident from recent satellite photography and from numerous reports on
the systematic nature of African village destruction in the rural areas
of all three states in Darfur Province---a figure of 2.5 million
"non-displaced" persons seems thoroughly untenable.

This is the context in which to assess the meaning of the June 3, 2004
estimate of 2.2 million "war-affected" persons. Given the global
population numbers for the Darfur region, the number of "war-affected"
persons must be accelerating quickly, and indeed must now far exceed 2.2
million. Any surviving foodstocks are rapidly disappearing or have
already disappeared; host families for many of the displaced persons now
find themselves without food; and the ability to forage for the foods
normally eaten in times of severe food scarcity is meaningless given the
continuing predations of Khartoum's proxy militia force, the Janjaweed.
Insecurity has hopelessly compromised the superb coping skills of the
rural African tribal populations of Darfur. Overall levels of morbidity
and malnutrition within the growing "war-affected" population, likely
well in excess of 2.5 million, are climbing extremely rapidly.


[1] UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland declared on
July 23, 2004 that the mortality figure for Darfur "could be as high as
50,000" (Agence France-Presse, July 23, 2004). Dismayingly, there was
no statistical explanation offered or differentiation within the overall
figure between deaths from violence and deaths from malnutrition and
disease. Moreover, Egeland's statistical preface to his
estimate---"Among the one million people [who are displaced]" (Agence
France-Presse, July 23, 2004)---is a dismayingly inaccurate
characterization of the number of displaced persons in Darfur and Chad:
the number is certainly at the very least 50% higher than the one
Egeland offered as context for his estimate. As a consequence of this
casual but highly significant understatement of a key figure in Darfur's
crisis, it is difficult to see this mortality estimate as the result of
a rigorous statistical analysis.

A much more likely explanation is that Egeland's figure is simply a
minimal (i.e., institutionally acceptable within the UN) increase,
serving Egeland's larger and more urgent purpose of making clear that
things are continuing to deteriorate badly in Darfur:

"'There is a false impression now that things are improving in Darfur
because we, the humanitarian community, are able to deploy much stronger
than before,' Mr Egeland said. 'The outlook at the moment is actually
bleak, the deaths are increasing,' he said." (Agence France-Presse, July
23, 2004)

[2] The US Agency for International Development yesterday (July 29,
2004) estimated that 80,000 have died in Darfur (Deutsche Presse Agentur
[dpa], July 29, 2004). This estimate is a good deal more compelling,
largely because it does differentiate between mortality from violence
and mortality from disease and malnutrition.

Even the US AID figure is likely low, however, particularly in its
estimate of deaths from violence (given as 30,000). At the same time,
there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that the US AID estimate of
deaths from disease and malnutrition (given as 50,000) is appropriate
for the present; this may even be the figure Egeland had in mind when he
offered his own estimate.

But the US AID figure for violent deaths seems to ignore the
implications of the only publicly available study to date on this
subject, conducted by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres
(MSF) and the epidemiological research center "Epicenter." The June 21,
2004 report ("Emergency in Darfur, Sudan: No Relief in Sight") studied
violent deaths in West Darfur State, and arrived at a key finding:

"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

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 crudely estimated total average displaced population of 1.2
million, including refugees in Chad) that over 40,000 people were
violently killed between September 2003 and February 2004 (this
represents a weekly casualty figure of approximately 1,500).

In the five months (22 weeks) since the end of February, violent
killings have continued to be reported on a very wide-scale throughout
Darfur, especially February to April, subsiding recently only because
the destruction of African villages is now largely completed. Even so,
an African Union fact-finding mission declared today there has been
continued significant deterioration in the security situation in Darfur
in recent weeks (Reuters [Accra], July 30, 2004), and accounts of highly
destructive Janjaweed assaults also continue to be reported throughout
Darfur. CBS News and Associated Press report today:

"'The [Janjaweed] attackers looted the market and killed civilians [in
the village of Suleia, West Darfur], in some cases, by chaining them and
burning them alive,' according to the [African Union monitoring team]
report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on
Thursday." (CBS News and Associated Press, July 30, 2004)

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/early summer of

All of 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.


If we accept the US Agency for International Development figure of
50,000 dead from disease and malnutrition, and the implications of the
MSF study of violent death, we arrive at a total of 130,000 dead. This
writer estimated on July 15, 2004 that the total mortality in Darfur was
135,000. The difference here is well within the very wide margin of
error for such statistical calculations. At the same time, US AID's
"Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, 2004-2005" (
suggests a daily mortality rate that has now reached 10 persons per day
per 10,000 of affected population. Assuming an affected population of
over 2 million (people presently in urgent need of food and medical
assistance), this suggests a daily death rate of 2,000 human beings (see
July 15, 2004 analysis by this writer of the population figure
appropriate to deploy in this statistical projection; available upon
request). These data aggregated suggest that total mortality in Darfur
as of July 30, 2004 is over 150,000.

[Note: US AID's "Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, 2004-2005," which
projects both mortality and Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM), continues
to be borne out in surveys of nutrition throughout Darfur. Indeed,
malnutrition is tracking higher than US AID projections. Studies of
particular note include: [1] an assessment by Action Contre la Faim
(ACF) in the Abu Shouk camp for the internally displaced [North Darfur],
indicating Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates of 39 percent and
Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) of 9.6 percent (July 2004); [2] Save the
Children study (June 17, 2004) of malnutrition and food insecurity in
Malha, North Darfur (assessment teams found an acute crisis in
nutritional status with GAM rates of 33 percent and SAM rates of 5.4
percent); and [3] a nutritional study by Doctors Without
Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres during April and May 2004 ("On the
Brink of Mass Starvation," May 20, 2004), conducted at Garsila, Mukjar,
Bindissi, Deleij, and Um Kher (West Darfur). The study revealed that
"global acute malnutrition affects 21.5% of the population while 3.2%
suffer from severe acute malnutrition. The mortality rate for children
under five years of age is 5.2 deaths per 10,000 people per day while
the rate for those over five years of age is 3.6)."

Global Acute Malnutrition and human mortality correlate extremely
highly in famine conditions.]


There are many who are skeptical of the high mortality figure offered
here. Where skepticism can be explained, assumptions reasonably
questioned, statistical inferences challenged, data shown to be
inaccurate, this writer welcomes responses and corrections. Many those
skeptical are apparently in the UN, and their data would be especially
welcome. But perhaps it is appropriate to point out that for over four
months many within the UN have contented themselves with a figure of
10,000 dead for all of Darfur---for more than 17 months of extraordinary
violent and destructive conflict, including mass executions, and
involving huge numbers of displaced and endangered persons, living in
highly traumatic circumstances. What accounts for this dramatic and
consequential understatement of human loss of life?

It is sadly the case that we learn too much about the inadequacy of UN
statistical and logistical comprehension of the Darfur crisis from a
very recent comment by Dr. David Nabarro, head of UN World Health
Organization (WHO) "Health Crises Operations":

"Dr. Nabarro says WHO did not think the situation in Darfur would
become as desperate as it is. He says the agency underestimated the
difficulty of getting enough water supplies and of improving sanitation
facilities in the camps." (interview with Voice of America, July 18,

This is simply disgraceful incompetence. Indeed, it is clear that
various of the UN organizations---including the UN World Health
Organization, the UN World Food Program, the UN High Commission for
Refugees, and the UN High Commission for Human Rights---have at times
performed poorly in responding to Darfur, and at times extremely poorly.
All who are working to mitigate the Darfur crisis must hope that this
does not continue to translate into the promulgation of figures that are
clearly untenable.

Eric Reeves
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063

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