Darfur death toll at 10,000 a month

Posted in Other , Africa | 14-Sep-04 | Author: David Gow| Source: Guardian

A child's funeral in Darfur.
Up to 10,000 people a month are dying of disease in the Darfur camps, many of them children, despite the international aid effort, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.

A study in the west and north of the region by the WHO and the Sudanese government pointed to a monthly toll of 6,000-10,000 in the displaced population of 1.2 million. "Thousands of these are children," David Nabarro, head of WHO's health crisis action group, told Reuters.

"These mortality figures are of considerable concern ... What is disturbing is that we are already six months into this crisis."

The death rate was up to six times that of an African country without a humanitarian crisis.

The figures were released as EU foreign ministers urged the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to set up an international commission of inquiry into all violations of human rights in Darfur, including possible acts of genocide.

The British and French ministers, Jack Straw and Michel Barnier, stopped short of following the US secretary of state Colin Powell in using the word "genocide" to describe the activities of the Janjaweed and other militias in Darfur.

But Mr Straw said that whatever phrase was used - genocide, ethnic cleansing or civil war - a new UN security council resolution should urge Mr Annan to set up an urgent inquiry "into all alleged human rights abuses, including allegations of genocide".

The EU ministers said there was "no indication that the Sudanese government has taken real and verifiable steps to disarm and neutralise" the militia, and urged it to bring to justice militia leaders or army officers suspected of serious human rights violations.

Mr Straw said he was "pretty confident" that any new UN resolution would contain a renewed threat of sanctions.

"They will come much closer unless we see very much better cooperation on the crucial issue of law and order in Darfur," he said.

The US is already pressing for sanctions.

Mr Barnier said the EU could send a contingent of police officers to help the African Union mission in Darfur.

France has already sent 200 soldiers to the neighbouring state of Chad, where there are an estimated two million refugees from Darfur, to help monitor the border.

The WHO says that diarrhoea is the leading cause of death in Darfur, particularly of children, but violence is also a "significant cause".

The interview-based survey did not go into the nature of the violence, Mr Nabarro said.

"You should not be seeing these sort of figures six months into an emergency, and they reflect the fact that we still have a huge humanitarian challenge ahead of us," he added.

But the mortality rate was in line with the 50,000 dead which the UN and other international bodies have been using as the probable toll since the crisis erupted, Mr Nabarro said.

The US has accused the Sudanese government of condoning genocide in Darfur by not halting Arab militia attacks on the African tribes which Khartoum suspects of supporting two rebel movements in the vast and arid region.

The revolt began early last year after years of skirmishing between African farmers and Arab nomads contesting the right to land.

The rebels accuse Khartoum of arming the Janjaweed to crush them and their civilian sympathisers, an accusation the government denies.

The US administration is pressing for international sanctions against Khartoum and the EU said on Monday that it would impose sanctions if Sudan did not not take adequate steps to disarm the militias.

Around a quarter of those surveyed in the camps said they had no access to safe drinking water and between a third and a half had no latrines, Mr Nabarro said.

Insecurity and logistical problems brought on by the rainy season were hampering the relief effort, and the humanitarian agencies were also suffering a continued cash shortage.

"The fact is that our relief operation for a number of reasons is not doing the job," he said.