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Darfur Death Toll Is Hundreds of Thousands Higher Than Reported, Study Says

by Kelly Hearn Friday, Oct. 06, 2006 at 11:36 AM

Darfur Death Toll Is Hundreds of Thousands Higher Than Reported, Study Says

Darfur Death Toll Is Hundreds of Thousands Higher Than Reported, Study Says

Kelly Hearn

for National Geographic News



United States government death toll estimates for the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan in Africa underestimate the count by hundreds of thousands of lost lives, according to a new study.

Some experts estimate that the conflict between government-sponsored militias and rebel groups, which began in February 2003, has killed as many as 500,000 people so far (watch related video about the factors fueling the conflict).

Darfur refugees mourning photo

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RELATED

* Surviving Darfur: Photographer on Life in the Camps (June 2005)

* Freed by Sudan, "Geographic" Reporter Arrives Home in U.S. (September 10, 2006)

* Sudan Facts, Maps, More

But in 2005 officials at the U.S. Department of State gave a vastly lower threshold of 63,000 to 146,000 dead.

The low figures produced "patterns of underestimation that prevailed in the press," said John Hagan, study co-author and sociology professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

"After that announcement, much of the media reporting started to talk in the tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands, or they didn't talk about deaths at all and talked exclusively about displacement," he said. "It had the effect of diminishing the sense of urgency."

(See related photos of life in Sudanese refugee camps.)

The latest report, to be published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science, challenges official U.S. estimates.

Hagan and co-author Alberto Palloni of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, estimate that the conflict has caused anywhere from 170,000 to 255,000 deaths, and they say the number could be much higher.

"Analysis of factors confounding previous estimates leads to the conclusion that hundreds of thousand of people … have died as a result of the conflict in Darfur," Hagan and Palloni write in their study.

Challenging Data

Many death toll estimates for Darfur have been hindered by the difficulties of taking surveys in Sudan's western region (map of Sudan).

Data-gathering agencies must therefore make problematic assumptions, the authors write in their study. For example, interviews in displacement camps must be used as substitutes for body counts and population-based census data.

Surveys also vary in coverage, and years of war and famine throughout Sudan have "reconfigured nuclear families, making sampling units in surveys problematic," the authors write. (Related feature: "Shattered Sudan" in National Geographic magazine.)

Darfur refugees mourning photo

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RELATED

* Surviving Darfur: Photographer on Life in the Camps (June 2005)

* Freed by Sudan, "Geographic" Reporter Arrives Home in U.S. (September 10, 2006)

* Sudan Facts, Maps, More

The study also says that estimates of Darfur mortality "have been based on the dubious assumption of a constant number of deaths per month."

According to Hagan and Palloni, the State Department's data were limited due to an emphasis on "camp health problems rather than pre-camp violence."

The department also drew "on health surveys that were not fully identified and for which primary sources are uncertain."

State Department officials declined to comment for this article.

To reach their estimate, Hagan and Palloni derived direct crude mortality rates, or CMRs, from survey materials recorded by the Sudanese state of West Darfur. They also made indirect CMR estimates using child mortality rates.

The pair believes that the direct estimates are too high while the indirect estimates are too low, so they combined the data sets to produce upper and lower bounds.

They then calculated the number of deaths using the CMRs and estimates of the affected populations.

"Our conclusion is that the total number of deaths is 200,000 or more, possibly much more," Hagan said.

Floor-Level Estimate

Before the State Department's 2005 release, the World Health Organization issued a 2004 report estimating that 70,000 people had perished over a seven-month period because of the Darfur conflict.

By April 2005 a United Nations humanitarian coordinator had estimated 180,000 people had perished over 18 months, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had put the number at 300,000.

Eric Reeves, an influential Sudan activist and professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, says that the U.S. government's low estimates were politically tainted.

"The State Department has not wanted Darfur to be perceived as the enormous genocidal crisis that it is, for lack of an effective way of responding," he said.

"This is propaganda, not epidemiology [the study of patterns and causes of diseases, injuries, and other human health problems]."

Reeves, who puts the number of deaths at 500,000, gives particular prominence to a well-known study that focused specifically on lives lost to direct violence.

That study, conducted in 2005 by the Coalition for International Justice (CIJ), a now-defunct legal nonprofit, was not used in the new report.

Reeves said it was "irresponsible" of the researchers to exclude the CIJ research, noting that study co-author Hagan used it last year to conclude that at least 390,000 Africans had perished in the conflict, a figure higher than his current estimate.

Hagan says that the CIJ survey was a rich resource that simply did not fit the criteria for the current study.

He said the new estimate "was intended to establish a floor level of 200,000 deaths, so that media sources would no longer underestimate the urgency of the situation in Darfur."

He stressed that the actual number of deaths could be much higher.

The new estimate, he says, is more conservative than the previous one because it did not include missing persons who were presumed dead, and it used different criteria to measure family membership.

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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
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TITLE AUTHOR DATE
The next Zionist Plot After Darfur - North Korean Nukes Ami Isseroff Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 1:59 AM
High colonic Sheepdog Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 4:06 AM
did I read Cracker Jerk correctly? Hmmmmmm Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 10:28 AM
inverted as usual Your mistake Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 11:14 AM
The rabid anti-Zionist sin and its punishment SJ Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 5:03 PM
So SK ?? Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 6:18 PM
Good point you're raising SJ Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 6:36 PM
How many Sudanese is a Palestinian worth? Becky Johnson Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 7:57 PM
SchtarkerYid Mkisses the point Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 7:14 AM
You talk about truth?! The Angry Jew Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 7:23 AM
more walls for Zionists they're not so bad. Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 10:48 AM
Darfur refugees live in fear of militias ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 11:06 AM
More assassinations of jihadist anti-Zionists they could help Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 11:12 AM
SchtarkerYid Typical Toady Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 1:38 PM
Great cartoon, gift before I'm off to school Huh Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 1:43 PM
Maybe if SJ wouldn't spam the religious tripe Maybe if SJ wouldn't spam the religious tripe Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 1:50 PM
The Ethic Becky Johnson Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 2:41 PM
Sukkot reminds us of homelessness Becky Johnson Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 2:59 PM
Darfur Activists are much too polite about genocide John Morlino Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 5:25 PM
Hey wait a minute! I thought you were Baha'i, Becky! TW Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 at 11:10 AM
So tell, arch-racist jerkoff Tee Wdumbya SJ Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 at 11:50 AM
I revere physical reality... TW Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 at 12:17 PM
So my reverence for the cosmos as more important than myself (or my species)... TW Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 at 1:01 PM
Theres a lot you don't know name dropper Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 at 3:49 PM
Can we say "bigot"? I know we can Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 at 8:35 PM
You're citing a book quoted on a Duke site SJ Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006 at 10:42 PM
For Ms. BJ Project Mockingbecky Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006 at 8:41 AM
RE: TW Friday, Oct. 13, 2006 at 4:01 PM SJ Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006 at 10:21 PM
David Duke didn't write that stuff, stupid lying Izzie-maniac TW Sunday, Oct. 15, 2006 at 10:49 PM
Context matters cherry picking won't do Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 2:45 AM
Schneerson urges Jews to return to Judaism repost Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 4:49 AM
maybe SJ should have its own thread Just for his hate/insult posts Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 7:19 AM
maybe SD should have its own website Just for his hate/insult posts Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 7:24 AM
temper... postomatic Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 7:26 AM
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Open-Publishing, Free Speech, and Diversity are worth fighting for Becky Johnson Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 8:28 AM
"Open-Publishing, Free Speech, and Diversity are worth fighting for" now seriously Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 8:35 AM
Amd that's what frustrates you so You will tell us nothing, BJ Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 8:44 AM
Wrong, wrong and wrong again Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 9:05 AM
Cherry picking Au contraire, Tia Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 9:13 AM
I stand corrected, let me re-phrase for you SJ I stand corrected, let me re-phrase for you Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 9:19 AM
You are right I agree with you SJ/AJ Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 9:40 AM
RE: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006 at 4:50 PM SJ Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 4:58 PM
Your psychological mechanism of defense kicked in SJ Monday, Oct. 16, 2006 at 8:24 PM
Darfur & The Sukkah of Peace Rabbi Or N. Rose Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006 at 8:06 AM

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