Business, Economics and Jobs

Statistical inflation over Abyei


Burned and abandoned. Tens of thousands of people have fled the fighting in the disputed Sudanese town of Abyei, but no one knows how many and everyone is keen to up the numbers.


Stuart Price/UNMIS

Anyone familiar with humanitarian crises knows to question the figures. After all, inflating or over-estimating the numbers is a canny way to win public sympathy (if you are a politician) or garner donor dollars (if you are a charity).

But just what is going on in Abyei?

At the weekend it was generally accepted that there were about 20,000 southern people in the disputed little town. It was also generally accepted that they all fled as Sudan’s northern army rolled into town in their tanks preceded by artillery and aerial bombardment.

By the start of the week aid agencies revised that guess upwards saying 30,000 had fled their homes and this was quickly increased to 40,000 by the UN.

Today news agency reporters finally got a little closer to Abyei and found a local official in Turalei, 80 miles from Abyei, who claimed that 40,000 had come to his town but 80,000 were displaced in total.

This guess was comprehensively trumped shortly afterwards by another southern official in the faraway capital Juba who told the BBC the true figure of people fleeing the fighting was 150,000.

Clearly there is some terrible suffering going on in and around Abyei but it is hard not to be cynical about this kind of rapid hyperinflation of the figures.