By Eric Reeves
February 10, 2014 - For several years now, one of the great deficiencies in our understanding of and response to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur has been a lack of data relevant to assessments of malnutrition, hygiene, primary medical care, access to clean water, and education. A UNICEF report of January 29, 2014 suggested a breakthrough on this score:
For the first time in Sudan, the Simple Spatial Survey Methodology (S3M) has been used to collect data on child malnutrition, showing the difference in performance of health and nutrition services right down to locality level; in each of Sudan’s 18 states. "The S3M survey is a gold mine of credible data on child malnutrition and its underlying causes. Up-to-date, reliable data are indispensable to realize the right of every child in Sudan. They are essential to plan, budget, refine and deliver services for children in every locality of the country," said Mr Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s Representative in Sudan. "Up to now, Sudan has only had general data on the nutritional status of its children, and we know that national and even state level averages often mask disparities at lower levels. With these new survey results, we know exactly where the pockets of high need are located. This means that investment can be tailored to make sure that every single child in need is reached."
Readers of the report were informed that for more information—presumably about the specific findings of the S3M report—they should contact UNICEF:
Lone Hvass, UNICEF Khartoum, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mara Nyawo, UNICEF Khartoum, email@example.com
The reply to my February 1, 2014 request for such information came today (February 10, 2014) in the form of a terse, all too predictable email:
Dear Mr Reeves
Thank you for your interest in the survey.
The results are with the Federal Ministry of Health and are not with UNICEF to distribute, we can however put you in touch with the relevant person in the Ministry of Health if that would be helpful.
Nutrition Specialist (Surveillance)
But of course it is the Ministry of Health and the perversely named Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) that have been responsible for the suppression of data for a number of years, have refused to allowed completed reports and analyses be promulgated publicly, and has generally done all it can to obscure humanitarian realities in Darfur. Both regime organs have also been responsible for or complicit in the obstruction of humanitarian relief operations and delivery of supplies into Darfur. The notion that they would offer anything to an inquiring American who has been critical of Khartoum’s actions in Darfur for over a decade is of course preposterous—and known by Ms. Nyawo to be so.
Fortunately for those interested in the realities of Darfur at present, Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s Representative in Sudan, spoke subsequently at a press conference, although this was reported only by Radio Dabanga (Khartoum, February 5, 2014):
Half of the children in Darfur are out of school, and 40 percent of them suffer from chronic malnutrition, the Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Sudan revealed on Monday [February 3]. UNICEF Representative Geert Cappelaere on Monday briefed the press about the conclusions of a study carried by UN agencies in Sudan. He stated that minors constitute 65 percent of the population in Darfur. Most of them are living in camps for the displaced. A total of 1.2 million children in Sudan’s western region do not have access to basic services. Half of the Darfuri children are out of school, and 40 percent of them suffer from chronic malnutrition. Only six women out of 100 give birth in health centres. 300 out of 100,000 women die in childbirth.
These are extraordinary and terrifying findings, and nothing in the report released by UNICEF suggests just how frightening these figures should be. Notably, this account by Cappelaere does not indicate whether the "chronic malnutrition" that afflicts 40 percent of Darfuri children is Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM), for which the "critical emergency" threshold is 15 percent (see "Glossary: Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM)," Complex Emergency Database) or Global Chronic Malnutrition (GCM), commonly known as "stunting." Context and information from sources on the ground strongly suggest that it is the latter, but that leaves us with a critical question: what is the Global Acute Malnutrition rate for Darfur? It has, in various locations at various times, been reported as well over the 15 percent "critical emergency" threshold: what is the situation now? Why is this figure not part of the report? or Mr. Cappelaere’s otherwise revealing news conference? A number of ominous possibilities suggest themselves.
[The UN OCHA report of January 27 – February 2, 2014 was no more revealing on this critical question.]
For context, for an understanding of Khartoum’s attitudes towards humanitarian assessments and efforts in Darfur, we should recall the regime’s February 1, 2014 suspension of the International Committee of the Red Cross from all humanitarian activities in Darfur. Reliable sources indicate that what was initially glossed over as a bureaucratic issue was in fact much more ominous: the Khartoum regime, desperately cash-strapped, had demanded of the ICRC that it deliver a substantial portion of its own operating funds to the Sudanese Red Crescent, a demand that the ICRC rightly refused. Although it has been suggested that the SRC had itself demanded substantially more direct funding from the Geneva-based ICRC—and that this was what Khartoum meant by declaring the ICRC was "working outside its mandate"—no such high-profile incident as we have seen unfold could have been provoked without regime authorization. And nothing could better capture Khartoum’s contempt for the integrity of humanitarian operations or the desperate plight of the people of Darfur.
The heading given to the January 29, 2014 official UNICEF release of its report was, "Sudan launches new data on child malnutrition; UNICEF calls for all-out effort to support the fight against malnutrition in Sudan." But as long as UNICEF refuses to provide access to these data, as long as it remains fully under the control of the Khartoum regime, then we know that no watershed for the disclosure of humanitarian data has been reached, at least for Darfur. And as long as we don’t know the critically revealing Global Acute Malnutrition rate for Darfur, we are in danger of misunderstanding the nature of a vast and accelerating emergency.
Why won’t these data be released?
Eric Reeves is professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, who has written extensively on Sudan and South Sudan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.