[Marxism] Death rate declines in Darfur

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Aug 26 12:11:01 MDT 2007


Death rate declines in Darfur
U.N. officials and others in Sudan cite a drop in violence and improved 
healthcare, but say the humanitarian crisis is not over.
By Edmund Sanders
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 26, 2007

HABILLAH, Sudan — Something remarkable happened this year at a clinic 
for malnourished infants in this West Darfur village: It ran out of 

And physicians at the Doctors Without Borders clinic haven't seen a 
single gunshot wound since last year. Now they're thinking about closing 
down because there is a hospital next door run by another aid agency, 
and a third center is under construction.

"It's getting a bit crowded here," said Sewnet Mekonnen, the clinic's 
field coordinator. "We're not seeing as many emergencies."

The clinic's situation highlights one positive trend lost in the barrage 
of grim news that continues to pour out of western Sudan: Fewer people 
are dying.

At the peak of the Darfur crisis three years ago, health experts 
estimated that 6,000 to 10,000 people were losing their lives each month 
to disease, hunger and violence. Today, thanks to a drop in violence and 
improved healthcare, that figure is estimated at 100 to 600 a month, 
based on United Nations mortality estimates, news reports and interviews 
with U.N. officials, aid workers and Western diplomats.

Exact figures are unknown because, even though the U.N. and the African 
Union have large missions in Darfur, no agency is officially keeping 
track of civilian deaths.

The U.N. informally collects reports of violence-related civilian 
deaths, but doesn't make the data public because it cannot verify their 
accuracy. However, U.N. officials did confirm a downward trend.

"Violence has subsided in the first part of 2007 and this definitely has 
affected the death toll," said Ali Hamati, the U.N. spokesman in El Fasher.

Those who have reviewed the U.N.'s weekly compilations say 
violence-related casualties this year have averaged 100 to 200 a month, 
with the largest number of recent deaths arising from inter-tribal 
clashes in southern Darfur. Overall, civilian casualties in Darfur were 
down 70% in the first half of 2007, compared with the same period last 
year, U.N. figures indicate.

Officials emphasized, however, that even with the drop in fatalities, 
violence and insecurity in Darfur remain a problem.

"Harassment is still going on, rape is still going on, attacks are still 
going on," said Annette Rehrl, spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. 
High Commissioner for Refugees. "But the killing is not on the large 
scale that we saw before."

Since the Darfur rebellion erupted in 2003, about 200,000 people are 
believed to have died, mostly of disease and hunger, though the Sudanese 
government says the death toll is 5,000. Some Darfur activists estimate 
that as many as 450,000 people have died.

Sudan's military regime, dominated by Sudanese Arabs, is accused of 
responding to the rebellion by arming nomadic militias, called 
janjaweed, to attack and pillage villages supporting rebels, many of 
whom increasingly call themselves "Africans." To date, about 2.5 million 
people have been displaced.

Some attribute the recent reduction in deadly violence to the growing 
international pressure on the Sudanese government and to the splintering 
of the rebel movement into rival factions, resulting in fewer clashes 
with government troops. Others see a change in tactics by janjaweed, 
shifting from large-scale massacres to other forms of intimidation.

"It's like they are getting smarter," said Gry Tangstad, a U.N. human 
rights worker in El Fasher, state capital of North Darfur. "They're 
still attacking, but often they are just scaring people or preventing 
them from their livelihoods. We're not seeing entire burned-out villages 
like we did in 2004."

In one North Darfur village, for example, janjaweed cut off access to 
the water source in July, forcing residents to move to a displacement 
camp without firing a shot. In another incident last month, militiamen 
burned down two huts and killed two people in the village of Hajar, but 
were able to loot the entire village because hundreds of residents 
immediately fled, according to a U.N. report.

Such quick escapes are another reason for a decrease in the number of 
deaths, experts said.

"People are moving at the first sign of trouble, and as a result, not 
losing their lives in the same number," said Fleur Auzimour Just, a 
program advisor at Care International in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.

Rape is increasingly used as "a weapon of war to cause humiliation and 
instill fear," said the Office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human 

A recent report by the agency mentions 50 women in Deribat, South 
Darfur, who were raped and some held as sex slaves for a month by armed 
bands, allegedly supported by government troops, who attacked their town 
in December 2006.

However, the overall decline in violence has led some aid officials and 
diplomats to raise questions about whether the conflict should still be 
characterized as genocide, a position held by the U.S. government and 
several international activist groups.

"The idea that thousands are still being killed by janjaweed is a myth," 
said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he 
was not authorized to make public comments. "The genocide happened. And 
it ended. To say otherwise is obscuring the reality of Darfur."

Darfur activist Eric Reeves, an English professor at Smith College in 
Massachusetts, agreed that fatalities probably are at the lowest level 
since the conflict started, but said that conditions remained tense and 
fatalities could increase quickly if fighting resumes or humanitarian 
groups withdraw.

Reeves said civilian deaths had declined, in part, because many people 
in Darfur are living in displacement camps. "There just aren't that many 
villages left to attack," he said, calling the current environment 
"genocide by attrition."

Another major factor has been the aggressive international humanitarian 
campaign led by the U.N., involving more than 12,000 workers at a cost 
of nearly $700 million annually.

Since 2005, key indicators, including mortality and malnutrition rates, 
have been improving steadily. Today those rates are not only below 
thresholds commonly used internationally to define an "emergency," but 
in some cases, they are better than before the conflict, or better than 
those observed in other parts of Sudan and Africa.

"There is very little malnutrition and very little disease," said Mike 
McDonagh, the north Sudan manager for the U.N. Office for the 
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "We very quickly got it turned 

Malnutrition rates in Darfur have been reduced by almost half since 2004 
to 12.9%, according to U.N. figures. The "emergency" threshold is 15%.

The mortality rate for Darfur is about 0.35 deaths daily per 10,000 
people, according to the latest available U.N. estimates -- about 
one-eighth of the 2.9 rate seen in some areas in 2003 and 2004, and well 
below the 1.0 "emergency" threshold.

In fact, the mortality rate in Darfur is near, or perhaps even below, 
the region's pre-conflict level. In sub-Saharan Africa, 0.44 deaths 
daily per 10,000 people is a common baseline.

"People in Darfur are now getting better healthcare than people in other 
parts of Sudan, such as the east and central regions," said El Tayeb 
Ahmed, a Sudanese physician with Doctors Without Borders in Habillah.

Aid workers, however, warned that such progress does not mean the Darfur 
crisis is "fixed."

An estimated 4.2 million people remain dependent on humanitarian aid. An 
additional 200,000 Darfur residents have been displaced since January. 
And health indicators are vulnerable to sudden changes. Aid groups 
recently began reporting an increase in moderate malnutrition in parts 
of West Darfur.

Meanwhile, violence has spread to neighboring Chad and the Central 
African Republic, where the aid presence is smaller and populations are 
more vulnerable than in western Sudan.

"It's still a huge humanitarian crisis," said Iain Hill, head of the 
U.N. refugee agency's office in Geneina, West Darfur.

edmund.sanders at latimes.com

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