Be sure to follow me on Twitter @leftiblog

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Death in Darfur

Just a few days ago AP reported that "Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands." Today they (and others) are out with an article about Darfur. How do they treat the similar information from that country? Without the slightest ambiguity or uncertainty, or talk of "unofficial" estimates:
"The 4-year-old Darfur conflict...has claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people."
Nor are they alone. The BBC likewise claims, without qualification or explanation, that "some 200,000 people have died in a four-year conflict in Darfur." Reuters goes even further, using the same figure, but claiming that those people have not just "died" (most as a result of malnutrition and disease) but were "killed": "Experts say some 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million others driven from their homes in Darfur since 2003."

It's time to repeat something I wrote a year ago, with a few updates:

Have you ever seen the word "killed" applied to people who have died from disease or famine (otherwise known as malnutrition) in Iraq, or pretty much anyplace else? The issue does arise, as I have discussed in writing about the distinction between the figures for Iraqi dead, as estimated by the Johns Hopkins/Lancet study, and the numbers of Iraqis "killed," as estimated, for example, by Iraq Body Count. But the media has uniformly discounted the former, and never, to my knowledge, used the word "killed" to apply to people who met their death by "natural" causes.

The other interesting comparison is that number, 200,000. I have no idea where it comes from, nor am I questioning it. But I'll just note that Iraq is a largely urban country with large cities, hospitals, morgues, etc., while Darfur is an almost entirely rural region of Sudan. It's curious that the media can quote authoritative figures for the numbers of people killed in Darfur, but don't have a clue how many people have been killed (or have died) in Iraq, isn't it?
Here's an interesting "fact sheet" you can find on the U.S. State Department's website . It appears to be the most recent thing they have; unfortunately, it's dated March 25, 2005. Interestingly, it uses the same "excess deaths" concept as the widely disparaged Johns Hopkins study in Iraq, and produces a result with wide variance: "63-146,000 'excess' deaths can be attributed to violence, disease, and malnutrition because of the conflict." It also claims that "wildly divergent death toll statistics, ranging from 70,000 to 400,000, result from applying partial data to larger, nonrepresentative populations over incompatible time periods." [I should add that there are only the most general indications of the methodology of the studies which this fact sheet encompasses, and no indication whatsoever that the information it reports was the result of studies in any way are careful and detailed as the Johns Hopkins study] I can't find anything more recent that appears to qualify as actual data, rather than just claims. Nevertheless, even this one study from a year ago [Two years ago now] indicates that the "certainty" suggested by the...use of the figure "200,000" is surely not warranted.
But, of course, it's the U.S. and the U.K. governments which are responsible for the genocide of three-quarters of a million people in Iraq, and the displacement of an estimated three million people (two million to other countries and one million internally displaced). And that makes all the difference in the way that facts pertaining to that situation are treated in the press. The corporate-government-military press.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com High Class Blogs: News and Media