[Marxism] Death rate declines in Darfur
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
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
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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