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Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Death in Darfur

Headlines proclaim: "UN says Darfur conflict worsening, with perhaps 300,000 dead," and the article refers to "a war that has killed perhaps 300,000 people in five years." This seems to be a yearly phenomenon, something I first wrote about in 2006 and then again in 2007, when the claims were that 200,000 had been "killed" in Darfur. And where does the number 300,000 come from? What scientific method was used to arrive at it?
Egeland, the former U.N. humanitarian chief, estimated in 2006 that 200,000 people had lost their lives because of the conflict, from violence, disease and malnutrition. He said this was based on an independent mortality survey released in March 2005 by the U.N. World Health Organization.

"That figure must be much higher now, perhaps half as much again," Holmes said Tuesday.
In short, this barely qualifies as a "guesstimate," but that doesn't stop the media from headlining it.

But the real point to be made is what I said back in 2006:

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 [Three years ago now] indicates that the "certainty" suggested by the...use of the figure "200,000" is surely not warranted.
In Iraq, not only does the media limit itself to those really "killed" by "violence," but even of that group, only those certified (generally by the U.S. military) as unquestionably civilian qualify. If the U.S. military says you were a "militant," or an "insurgent," or even armed, you aren't a "civilian" and your death doesn't "count." And isn't counted.

I'll close by quoting what I wrote last year:

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 [now scientifically estimated at more than a million], and the displacement of an estimated three million people (two million to other countries and one million internally displaced) [now more than four million]. 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.

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