More on Darfur death tolls

A few readers have challenged what I wrote here recently, when I challenged Ruth Messinger’s claim that “Half a million people are dead and 3.5 million are displaced” as a direct result of the genocidal violence in Darfur. In that post I noted that the WaPo’s Emily Waxreported from the Chad-Darfur border at the end of April that “tens of thousands” had been killed during the genocide, and said my judgment would be to prefer Wax’s figure over Messinger’s.
I’ve done a little more online research on the issue. A WaPo editorial noted on April 24 that, “On his recent visit to Sudan, Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick… said that the State Department’s estimate of deaths in Darfur was 60,000 to 160,000.”
The editorial claimed that range was far too low, and continued: “Other authorities suggest that mortality is likely to be closer to 400,000.” The sources they used for that included various extrapolations from limited samples taken by NGOs.
In this report from Khartoum yesterday, Evelyn Leopold of Reuters wrote,

    Since 2003, at least 200,000 people in Darfur have died from bullets, hunger or disease, 2.5 million have been thrown out of their homes, many burned to the ground, and hundreds of women have been raped, mainly by Arab militia after a rebellion broke out. The Sudan military had armed militia although it is no longer certain if they control their allies.

And in this June 4 report, also from Khartoum, AFP’s Charles Onians wrote:

    In 2003, the SLM alongside the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched a rebellion in the western region of Darfur, prompting a heavy-handed crackdown by the Khartoum government and its proxy militia called the Janjaweed.
    Since then, the conflict has left around 300,000 people dead and 2.4 million homeless.

Since Leopold and Onians are currently on the ground in Sudan, and presumably in good contact with the many aid workers and international diplomats there, I would be inclined to go with their estimates at this point.
I really liked the way Onians framed his little casualty report– putting the casualties clearly in the context of the armed political conflict of which they are such a tragic result, without trying to claim that they were “all” the victims of either one side or the other.
So maybe I would go with his casualty total, or say something like “somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 deaths.” This is considerably more than “tens of thousands.” But I also think it’s important not to convey the false impression (as Messinger did) that all the deaths have been inflicted by one side in the conflict.
Each one of these deaths is a tragedy. How many unrecognized Mother Theresas, how many Yo-Yo Ma’s had their lives snuffed out in those brutal circumstances?
Let’s all do whatever we can to help end the conflict that made such brutality possible.

7 thoughts on “More on Darfur death tolls

  1. Davis

    So even when you are admittedly off by a factor of 20, and the other party is off by a factor of 2, you cannot find a way to say you are wrong and move on.
    Sad disease, denial.

  2. salah

    Helena, I do not arguing the death toll, it’s defiantly there is a human crises there for long time from hunger, genocides and most importantly long time war in the south.
    But talking about realistic figures and how its true, I listen to one of Aid agencies spokes woman last year when she talking about women and rape cases, she tried hard to give impression that this crises alarming their in regards of sexual and raps case reported by those refuges and displacement people which she estimated by million of them, then the interviewer asked her how many women reported raped?
    She replayed 30 women!!!!
    This figure I believe may be small if we compare it with sexual cases reported to police or other department and justices systems where the law and orders in place like in US or other countries.
    Its may be worth noting the stories of the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and other parts in the words use their power and control of food aid to force child’s and girls for sex this well reported in many cases
    http://www.utexas.edu/conferences/africa/ads/388.html
    http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/africa/01/08/congo.peacekeepers.sex/

  3. sk

    Some little known perspectives on what’s going on in Darfur and the politics that may be lurking behind the lurid media framing of the conflict:
    http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/article296269.ece
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1273982,00.html
    Dr. Gino Strada’s take on among other topics, the crisis in Darfur. He’s the founder of the NGO Emergency and has been a surgeon in similar disaster situations for almost 20 years:
    http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/04/08/1346222&mode=thread&tid=25

  4. Joshua

    So it’s clear that Messinger’s numbers are more accurate.
    Thanks for the clarification, even if it was somewhat convoluted.

  5. Helena

    Messinger’s description of the state of affairs in Darfur is not more “accurate” [than what? than my earlier position– the “Wax” position? you don’t say…] And this, for the following reasons:
    (1) Messinger lays claim to a certitude regarding the death toll that is completely unjustifiable. Everyone there on the ground admits there are huge areas of uncertainty: vide, “at least 200,000 people in Darfur have died”, or “the conflict has left around 300,000 people dead..” Her bald claim that “Half a million people are dead and 3.5 million are displaced, the victims of a genocide… ” makes a quite misleading claim to certitude, while also citing a death tally that is nowhere justified by the evidence.
    (2) Her statement also, quite incorrectly, implies that this number of people have been killed by the only party to the conflict that has been accused of “genocide”, i.e. the pro-Khartoum side. This move has huge political consequences, as I have noted elsewhere, and is a claim used by those who seek to keep the horrendous, anti-humane conflict in Darfur going.
    (3) At a raw “numbers” level, “half a million” is exactly as close to “somewhere between 200,00 and 300,000” [the average value there being 250,000] as zero. But the estimate I had previously favored– Emily Wax’s “tens of thousands”– was significantly closer than zero to 250,000.
    (4) In general, though, it is the false claim of certitude, the willingness to exaggerate, and the one-sidedness of Messinger’s claim that I find troubling.

  6. Sphinx

    Don’t be misled by the agency reports. They have no clearer an idea than anyone else. I’d be inclined to stick to tens of thousands, which is the figure I use in my own reporting. No one has shown evidence for any number higher than that. Do not forget the investment some interested parties have made in exaggerating the gravity of the Darfur conflict for reasons which have nothing to do with concern for Darfuris.

  7. scottsville

    We need some bumper stickers reading “Free Darfur”.
    It worked for Tibet right?
    More seriously, the only way to correct this is military action.

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