Darfur: Not the Size of Texas or France

Poor befuddled readers of newspapers can’t be expected to understand straightforward units of measurement so when it comes to geographical area we journalists have a neat (where neat means hackneyed) trick – compare the subject of the article to things the reader might know. Traditionally this has been the football pitch as in…”the Beckhams’ front porch is the size of three football pitches”.

Naturally this is no good for really big things. For areas of Amazon rainforest felled, the traditional unit of area is Wales. See this prime example…

The challenges here are immense and interlocking: an area the size of Wales is chopped down every year; the burning of so many trees adds hugely to the greenhouse gases linked to global warming; global warming itself threatens to shift the weather system and deny the forest the rain it needs to survive.

When it comes to Darfur there are two conventions for describing its vastness. If writing for a British newspaper, it would be expressed thus…

Unamid is planning to build a base for monitors in Sileia and is running long-range patrols across the territory to show locals that it is serious about their security. But the force only has 9,000 people to look after an area the size of France.

American readers, who presumably aren’t sure of the size of France, get Texas, as in…

The success of the African Union mission is critical to allowing aid agencies to help the 2 million people who have been forced into relief camps, said Nicki Bennett of the British charity Oxfam. Fewer than 7,000 soldiers are assigned to an area the size of Texas, she said, so more troops are needed.

But hang on a minute. Has anyone done the maths? Well it has been a quiet week, and I have. So I give you the following size comparison…

So there you have it. Darfur is in fact almost 200,000 sq km smaller than Texas. Or a bit more than two Wales smaller than a France. From now on I shall only ever compare its size with that of Spain. And will rather tediously be encouraging my colleagues to do likewise. Or of course they could compare it with 82,196,666 football pitches.

(I’ve got a funny feeling someone may have multiplied the Imperial area of Texas (268,820 square miles) by the number of kilometres in a mile (1.609344) – rather than the number of square kilometres in a square mile – to get an incorrect metric area (giving 432,623 sq km) and a skewed comparison… but who knows?)

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