Darfur: 200,000 dead?

US researchers writing in the peer-reviewed journal Science maintain that more than 200,000 people have died in Sudan’s Darfur conflict, much higher than most previous estimates. Says Dr. John Hagan of Northwestern University: “We’ve tried to find a way of working between those overestimations and underestimations. We believe the procedures we have used have allowed us to come to very conservative and cautious conclusions which we used to try to identify a floor to these estimates—a floor figure of 200,000. We do not believe it is possible or defensible to go below in estimating the scale of this genocide.”

Oscar-winning actor George Clooney urged the UN Security Council to stop the “genocide” in Darfur Sept. 14. Clooney and his journalist father, Nick, spent five days in Darfur in April hearing personal accaounts of some of the victims. “It is the first genocide of the 21st Century and if it continues unchecked, it will not be the last,” he said before a special informal session hosted by US ambassador to the UN John Bolton.

Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whose Foundation for Humanity organized the session, also addressed the council. “You are the last political recourse of Darfur victims and you can stop it,” he said. (BBC, Sept. 15)

Hagan and Alberto Palloni at the University of Wisconsin used UN refugee camp counts to estimate the “at risk” population of West Darfur, and World Health Organization and MĂ©dicins Sans Frontières surveys to obtain direct and indirect monthly estimates of “crude mortality rates” (number of deaths per 100 people per year)in West Darfur.

“We conservatively estimate 19 months [between early 2004 and mid 2005] of mortality in West Darfur as 49,288, with a range from 40,850 to 67,598,” the researchers report. They then extended their estimate to 31 months, up to May 2006, and applied the same ratio of death to displacement across North and South Darfur. The range then becomes 170,000 to 255,000 deaths.

“It is likely that the number of deaths for this conflict in Greater Darfur is higher than 200,000 individuals, and it is possible that the death toll is much higher,” say Hagan and Palloni. (New Scientist, Sept. 14)

Prior to the new findings, various media outlets, including Reuters, have used death estimates ranging from “tens of thousands” to 200,000. Early in 2005 a United Nations humanitarian coordinator reported that 180,000 had died during an 18-month period. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has suggested 300,000 have died. (Reuters, Sept. 16)

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir rejected the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in Darfur region during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“Justice is and remains our objective but through our diplomatic, political and other means… that’s why we reject this position,” al-Bashir said at a press conference in Havana, where he and Annan are both attending the Nonaligned Movement summit.

Annan urged the government of Sudan in an open letter distributed at Havana to accept the UN security council’s decision to replace the largely ineffective African Union force in Darfur with UN peacekeepers.

“There can be no military solution to the crisis in Darfur,” Annan wrote. “All parties should have understood by now, after so much death and destruction that only a political agreement, in which all stakeholders are fully engaged, can bring real peace to the region.”

The possibility of UN intervention was welcomed by Salva Kiir Mayardit, a Sudanese vice-president with ties to the former southern guerilla movement, who was insated as a result of the recent peace deal. But al-Bashir’s government has refused. (AP, Sept. 17)

See our last post on Darfur and the politics of the Sahel.