Archive for the ‘UN’ Category

Measurement and malnutrition (and media)

Reading the IHT on my phone over lunch:

Child malnutrition rates have increased sharply in Darfur, even though it is home to the world’s largest aid operation, according to a new United Nations report.

The report showed that 16.1 percent of children affected by the conflict in Darfur, a vast, turbulent region in western Sudan, are acutely malnourished, compared with 12.9 percent last year. For the first time since 2004, the malnutrition rate, a gauge of the population’s overall distress, has crossed what UN officials consider to be the emergency threshold.

Just as important, the increase has occurred despite the efforts of more than 12,000 relief workers in Darfur, drawing from an annual aid budget of about a billion dollars. Aid officials said they were concerned that even with all these resources, the situation for the people in Darfur seemed to be getting worse.

Annoyingly, I cannot find the freakin’ report. Which is more than somewhat annoying. Google is letting me down. Also, it seems Somalia feels like it has missed the media cycle (joining the world media club – alumni including Kashmir, Bosnia, the West Bank, Uganda, the Congo, Tibet …).

However. Back to the story.

The report seems to confirm what aid officials in Darfur have been saying for months: that the increasingly chaotic security situation, both inside the enormous camps of displaced people and in the desiccated rural areas that are very difficult to reach even in the best of times, has gotten to the point that it is hampering the delivery of much-needed emergency food. The report said there was an “urgent need to improve security conditions.”

The new UN report was based on information collected in August and September from thousands of Darfurians affected by the conflict, including those living in squalid camps (the United Nations estimates roughly 2.2 million people have been displaced by fighting). The report cited “consistently poor infant and young child feeding practices” and a “deterioration in the overall food security situation.”

The report also showed that the percentage of Darfurians growing their own crops had decreased this year compared with last. The people surveyed said that insecurity and a lack of access to their farms were the main reasons, though Sudanese officials have hypothesized that some Darfurians may have simply grown dependent on food aid and chosen to stop farming.

Malnutrition was highest among young children, between 6 months and 29 months old, and in the North Darfur state, which is sparsely populated and very dry.

The statistics part – and this is why I wanted to find the report – has to do with the numbers because, as I began reading the story, an alternate/confounding explanation entered my head. What if (a) with more refugees, more people may be leaving? Healthier people, probably, make it out – leaving sicker people behind. Hence, up go the malnutrition rates, but not the numbers; or (b) the mortality rates for those kids are inversely related – meaning fewer kids are dying, but the next category up is living with malnutrition. Up go the numbers and the rates, but they represent kids that don’t die anymore.

Hence my desire to see the report (I think it’s the millenium goals one, also viewable here – for which it is not worth my while to pay USD20 for the statistical compendium, for one blog post). I want to see the numbers.

I’m not arguing that Darfur is full of rainbows and blue helmets, or anything, mind: this is just my statistics eye opening. I should be very surprised indeed if there’s anything at all redeeming in the numbers. The Econometrician part of my brain would also dearly like to start quantifying the money and the health outcomes. Which I choose to believe does not mean that I’m completely messed-up. Opinions differ.