John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Rising Death Toll of the South Sudan Crisis

by John Campbell
January 10, 2014

A displaced man speaks on a cellphone in his makeshift shelter at Tomping camp, where some 15,000 displaced people who fled their homes are sheltered by the United Nations, near South Sudan's capital Juba, January 7, 2014. (James Akena/Courtesy Reuters)


Nicholas Kulish, writing in the January 9 New York Times, reported that the International Crisis Group estimates the number of dead from the current round of fighting that started December 15 in South Sudan is nearly 10,000. This is much larger than the December 26 estimate by UN Special Representative for South Sudan Hilde Johnson of 1,000 killed. Fighting has intensified since December 26, no doubt resulting in more casualties.

As Herve Ladsous, the under secretary for Peacekeeping Operations said, “We are not able to provide final figures. We know it will be very substantially in excess of the 1,000 figure.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, where there is fighting, it is often difficult to get an accurate handle on casualty numbers. Rarely are there morgues and much of the fighting is usually dispersed over large areas. Then there are the casualties, usually civilian, from disease and hunger that results from the movement of displaced persons.

Over the years, many NGO researchers working on the ground in conflict areas have suggested to me that to get a realistic figure, it was necessary to multiple official figures by at least five. That makes the International Crisis Group estimate, if not exact, then at least indicative of realities on the ground.

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