GENEVA – As many as 10,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur (search) region are dying from disease and violence every month in the teeming camps where they've taken refuge, U.N. health agency officials said Monday.
European Union foreign ministers called Monday for the United Nations (search) to "immediately investigate" whether atrocities by the government-backed ethnic Arab militias against the region's black African Sudanese constitute genocide, highlighting growing impatience with the Sudanese government for failing to end the conflict.
International agencies have said attacks on African villagers, mainly by Arab militias, in Darfur have killed at least 30,000, but a new WHO survey put the figure at 50,000.
The WHO survey results confirm an estimate of a total death toll of 50,000 in Darfur region since the start of the conflict 19 months ago, said Dr. David Nabarro, head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization (search).
"It's disturbing to us that six months into this emergency we are still seeing these kinds of death rates," Nabbaro added. "WHO along with other agencies has yet to reach the level of intensity we would like. We're not doing the job for whatever reason."
The 25 EU foreign ministers urged U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) to "establish as soon as possible" a special inquiry.
In a statement they also urged Sudan to stop the fighting and implement a cease-fire in Darfur or face U.N. sanctions, including a possible oil embargo.
They said there was "no indication that the government of Sudan has taken real and verifiable steps to disarm and neutralize" the warring factions.
The ministers said an investigation was necessary to confirm Washington's claims that acts of genocide were being committed.
The WHO survey results show at least 6,000 and as many as 10,000 are dying in the camps every month.
The study found that displaced people, in North and West Darfur, are dying at between three and six times the expected rate. WHO and the Sudanese Health Ministry were unable to complete a study of settlements in the South due to fighting and dangerous travel conditions.
WHO said it would run out of money for Darfur aid by the end of September if it doesn't receive more donations.
Half to three-quarters of the deaths among children under five were linked to diarrhea, which is often caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation.
The crowded conditions in the settlements, shortage of clean water, inadequate latrines, insufficient soap, and the mire caused by rain-soaked mud mingling with excrement, have combined to make hygiene an impossible goal for people living in small, tarpaulin-covered huts.
Injury and violence were the cause of about 15 percent of deaths, WHO said.
About 1.2 million people in the Darfur region have fled their villages and are camped in 129 settlements across an area the size of France. More than 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad.
WHO estimated there were 8,854 deaths among 498,000 internally displaced people in West Darfur over a two-month period — some 148 deaths daily.
In North Darfur, WHO said there were an estimated 3,383 deaths among a population of 382,000 — or 56 deaths a day.
In South Darfur, only the Kalma settlement was surveyed, and there WHO found even higher mortality rates.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell testified in the Congress that the chaos in the west of Africa's largest country amounts to genocide by the government-backed ethnic Arab militias against the region's black African Sudanese.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has warned that the death toll could surge to 350,000 or more if aid doesn't reach some 2 million people soon.