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Darfur mortality update

Current data for total mortality from violence, malnutrition, and disease

By Eric Reeves

July 15, 2004 — So high are current mortality rates in Darfur, so great is previous human destruction, that the current (and static) UN figure of 10,000 deaths for the entire duration of this massive catastrophe must be regarded as both statistically irrelevant and morally slovenly (it was proffered by the UN in March 2004, without explanation or context). We certainly have no means of ascertaining with any precision what the number is; nor will we ever have a precise figure. But too much extant data and evidence suggest that a reasonable figure is already well in excess of 100,000 dead.

According to data authoritatively assembled by the US Agency for International Development, the present Crude Mortality Rate (CMR) is 7 per day per 10,000 for the affected population. Using as the basis for calculations the most recent UN figure of up to 2 million people "in need of emergency relief" (UN News Centre, July 13, 2004), the daily death toll is now approximately 1,400 human beings---or approximately 10,000 per week ("Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, 2004-2005, at http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/sudan/cmr_darfur.pdf).

[The figure here of 2 million is at once lower than the total number of "war-affected" persons (now greater than 2.3 million if we use as a base figure the June 3, 2004 estimate contained in joint UN, US, and European Union communiqué in Geneva) and higher than the number of Internally Displaced Persons (1.2. million) and the UN World Food Program estimate of Darfur’s food-dependent population in June 2004 (1.2 million, though climbing to 2 million for October). The relation of these figures is discussed in a first appendix to this analysis.]

In other words, the current mortality figure offered by the UN for the past 17 months of extreme violence and displacement in Darfur is the equivalent of what US AID data suggest is the death toll for the past week. Such a gross disparity should be the occasion for serious and urgent re-thinking of a reasonable mortality figure for Darfur. Nongovernmental organizations concerned with Darfur should commit the resources necessary to synthesize all data and evidence available. To date there has been no such effort.

This writer has distributed several previous attempts to "Quantify Genocide" in Darfur (available upon request). Given the absence of serious attempts to ascertain the immense scale of human destruction that has already occurred in Darfur, further efforts seem to be justified. So, too, do efforts to offer updates to figures for internal displacement, the "war-affected population," the percentage of this population in need of food aid, and the numbers of refugees in Chad. This is the first of continuing weekly updates on casualty totals, surveying previous data and statistical inferences, and incorporating new data and evidence.

[Since this and previous accounts draw so heavily on data from the US Agency for International Development "Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur, 2004-2005," it has seemed useful to provide a more particular account of these data, their statistical basis, confirming evidence from nutritional studies, and other relevant information. This account appears as a second appendix at the end of the present analysis.]


Current data support a working figure of approximately 135,000 total dead in Darfur from violence, malnutrition, and disease. This represents an increase of 15,000 from the figure of 120,000 offered by this writer on July 6, 2004 (available upon request). The previous figure of 120,000 was calculated on the basis of data from four primary sources: (i) the recent assessment of violent deaths and executions in Darfur by Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; (ii) the June 2004 survey report on violent deaths in the Mornay area by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres and the epidemiological research center Epicentre; (iii) July 2004 disease-specific mortality predictions from the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO); and (iv) data from US AID’s "Projected Mortality Rates in Darfur." [Key portions of these reports and accompanying statistical inferences appear as a third appendix to the present analysis.]

The increase of 15,000 in total mortality for the three Darfur states derives from further extrapolation from two of these sources.

In the past nine days, the Crude Mortality Rate (CMR) has risen from approximately 4 per day per 10,000 of affected population to 7 per day per 10,000. The Crude Mortality Rate is projected to increase to 10 per day per 10,000 by August 1, 2002 and to 20 per day per 10,000 by January 1, 2005. (These numbers are of course subject to change, depending on the nature of the humanitarian response, including the possibility of humanitarian intervention.) The severity of famine conditions, as well as accompanying morbidity, continues to rise throughout Darfur as more and more families have fully depleted their dwindling foodstocks.

Using an average CMR of 5.5 per day per 10,000 over the past nine days, and a figure of 2 million people "in need of emergency relief," the increase in total mortality is approximately 11,000.

A second increase drives from the assessment offered by David Nabarro, head of the UN World Health Organization’s unit for health action in crises:

"Some 10,000 people in Darfur could die of cholera and dysentery in July alone unless a massive aid operation can be set up to helicopter in food and medicines. ’We anticipate that if things go ahead as at the moment, 10,000 people will die in the next month,’ David Nabarro, head of the World Health Organization’s unit for health action in crises, told a news briefing in Geneva after a trip to Darfur." (Reuters, July 2, 2004)

No such intervention has taken place, "things have gone ahead as at the moment," and we may reasonably assume that in the past nine days, Nabarro’s prediction suggests that an additional 3,000 of the predicted 10,000 have died. Reports from various camps for the displaced, throughout Darfur, indicate that with the continued onset of heavy rains sanitary conditions are rapidly deteriorating, producing a dramatic acceleration in the rates of various diarrheal diseases.

These two increases suggest that total mortality has increased by approximately 15,000 persons. This inferred increase does not include any deaths from violence, though reports of widespread violence continue to come from many quarters in Darfur. It does not include any increase from mortality among refugees in Chad, though this number is also rapidly growing. It does not include any increase from continuing executions, including mass executions, in Darfur.

In the absence of a credible rival figure, political action, news reporting, and moral assessment of the catastrophe in Darfur must presume a casualty total of approximately 135,000 human beings.

- Eric Reeves
- Smith College
- Northampton, MA 01063

- Tel. 413-585-3326
email. ereeves@smith.edu