Home | News    Saturday 16 October 2004

WHO: Deaths in Darfur reach at least 70,000

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By NAOMI KOPPEL, Associated Press Writer

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David Nabarro

GENEVA, Oct 15, 2004 (AP) — The U.N. health agency on Friday estimated at least 70,000 people have died in refugee camps in Sudan’s Darfur region since March and warned that the mortality rate won’t fall unless countries provide more money.

"We are running on a threadbare, hand-to-mouth existence, and if the plight of these people in Darfur is as important to the international community as it seems to be then we would have expected more long-term support," said Dr. David Nabarro, head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization.

Nabarro said the estimate of 70,000 dead only covered the period since March, when aid agencies have had some access to the Darfur region, and only includes deaths caused by the poor conditions in temporary camps. WHO is unable to estimate how many people may have died from violence, he said.

The conflict in Darfur has forced 1.4 million villagers from their homes. More than 200,000 of those have crossed to neighboring Chad, where tension has risen because resources to care for the refugees are scarce.

The United Nations and aid groups have called Darfur the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Nabarro said the major cause of death appeared to be diarrhea, as well as fever and respiratory disease. There have been some improvements recently — an outbreak of hepatitis E appears to have stabilized, there are fewer cases of jaundice and dysentery, and cholera in Chad hasn’t yet spread to refugee camps.

The Darfur crisis is in the news daily, but that hasn’t translated into humanitarian aid, Nabarro said. The United Nations has only received half of the US$300 million that it needs to do its work, he said.

"I am personally concerned that we still don’t have a significant enough popular perception around the world of the enormity of the suffering experienced by people in Darfur and Chad, where disease and suffering is being experienced on a quite extraordinary and inhuman scale," he said.

Aid agencies have been unable to get to parts of the Darfur region — an area the size of France — because of insecurity. They also have had operations hampered in areas they can reach.

On Sunday, the U.N. World Food Program agency halted its operations temporarily in parts of Darfur after two staff members of the British aid group Save the Children UK were killed in an explosion believed caused by a land mine or unexploded ordnance.

It also reported several attacks by armed bandits on humanitarian vehicles over the past week.

Some 1.2 million people in Darfur currently rely on food from WFP.

"We aim to be helping 2 million by the end of the year," WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told reporters in Geneva Friday. "But these security incidents could prevent us reaching this goal."

Nabarro said much of the aid work in safer areas has been stymied by lack of money.

"We could have made a huge and lasting and rapid difference in Darfur if we had had helicopters that would have allowed us to maintain regular routes between camps. There doesn’t seem to be a security threat with using more helicopters — it is quite simply money."

"The price is measured in death," Nabarro added.

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