Total mortality in Darfur continues to be a subject of controversy, controversy in which I’ve been unpleasantly enmeshed for several years. Here is an update, in the form of commentary on a July 2009 mortality assessment from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) (Brussels, Belgium) Newsletter #10, July 2009.
Here’s the key conclusion from CRED’s mortality study:
Overall, we estimate the excess mortality in Darfur to be approximately 300,000 (180,000-460,000) deaths from September 2003 to December 2008. The main cause of death is not violence but rather disease such as diarrhea, which accounted for 80% of the excess deaths. We have further identified significant differences between IDPs [internally displaced persons] and residents.
Notably, this statistical range excludes mortality from February 2003 through August 2003, a time of extraordinarily violent human destruction and woefully inadequate international humanitarian responses. It excludes mortality among Darfuri refugees in Eastern Chad. It also excludes mortality from December 2008 to the present, a period during which many have died but no reliable data have been systematically collected, in large measure because of widening insecurity in the region and blunt threats from the Khartoum regime. The figures for violent mortality during the period from December 2008 to the present, coming from the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur, are extremely narrow in range and implication; they allow for very few inferences about global mortality, including from violence-related deaths or non-violent deaths that are consequences of the preceding years of military displacement of civilians. Khartoum continues to refuse to permit any cluster-sample studies of global mortality in Darfur.
Together, these two periods of exclusion, and the exclusion of Darfuri mortality in Eastern Chad, likely include many tens of thousands of war-related deaths that are nowhere reflected in the CRED figures, perhaps over 100,000 more. The range offered by CRED (“300,000 [180,000-460,000]”) provides a context for my own estimate of April/May 2006: “Currently extant data, in aggregate, strongly suggest that total excess mortality in Darfur, over the course of more than three years of deadly conflict, now significantly exceeds 450,000.”
Mine may be a high-end figure, but is certainly within the range suggested by the CRED study, especially if we consider the mortality not captured within its temporal and geographic framework. I would note that Francesco Checchi, a London-based epidemiologist who has worked in Sudan for a number of humanitarian groups, has said of my work: “Reeves has an activist agenda but ‘he knows Darfur well.’ What he’s done is ‘mathematically correct’ and ‘sufficiently legitimate’ to establish a high-end count” (Christian Science Monitor, August 30, 2006.)
It should be recalled that when the first of my many mortality assessments appeared (February 2004) the official UN estimate was 3,000 dead from all causes; I argued that reports and accounts already available made that figure untenable. My February 2004 conclusion was that the appropriate figure was at least ten times this total (I was guided at the time by field research in Eastern Chad by Sudan Focal Point/South Africa). In retrospect, the UN estimate was a disgracefully careless understatement. I remain convinced that the final total mortality figure for Darfuris will also be considerably higher than the mid-range figure cited by CRED last July.