Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Note on Damasak, Nigeria

A sub-theme of my posts on Boko Haram is to show how little we know about places like Nigeria—particularly its fringes where insurrectionary forces reside. Today’s New York Times carries a story reporting that army elements from Chad and Niger captured the town of Damasak from Boko Haram. One sentence immediately raised red flags:
The other unmistakable sign of the Islamist militants’ recent presence is that very few residents remain in a once thriving  town of 200,000.
What? Damasak is located right on the border with Niger (the country). The ordinary Google map does not show it at all. You can search for it by name in Google maps. Doing so identifies its location; using the satellite mode and enlarging the spot maximally shows what might be a small village. Indeed, looking at lists of cities in Nigeria, Damasak does not show up in the list of those 100,000 or greater in population. Hard work using a site called Falling Grain (link) eventually finds it about four different levels from the top. The place has a population of 1,108. That’s quite a distance from 200K. And the satellite image suggests that even that last number is exaggerated.

This is a desert landscape with trees here and there. A cluster of them at the indicated point suggest something like fifty huts. Damasak is 113 miles NNW of Borno State’s capital Maiduguri—where those “200,000” most likely fled—according to the NYT. The map shows both places, the red A indicating the location of Damasak. Caution is clearly indicated when reading modern media about very distant, obscure places.  Back before the Internet came into being, one could not check such things in, say, 15 minutes—15 minutes that our reporter clearly did not have.
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