The human cost of war

The human cost of war sometimes seems like just one more statistic. But what’s at stake is lost lives and broken families. Ernie Regehr discussed the grim task of calculating war deaths on his Disarming Conflict blog earlier this week (“Counting the War Dead,” Disarming Conflict, 7 February 2011).
Tabulating the human cost of war is a difficult and frequently controversial undertaking, and it is mostly left to volunteers and NGOs to compile this important information.

The chaos of war usually makes it impossible to produce a full accounting of its toll, but recent reports demonstrate the grim toll of war in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Congo:

•    The Afghanistan Rights Monitor recently reported that 2010 was the deadliest year yet for civilian casualties in the Afghanistan war, with at least 2,421 Afghan civilians killed (ARM Annual Report: Civilian Casualties of War, January-December 2010, Afghanistan Rights Monitor, February 2011);
•    Civilian deaths make up almost 50% of all Afghan combat deaths (Unknown News).
•    Iraq Body Count reports that there have been roughly 100,000 “documented” civilian deaths in the Iraq war. Other estimates based on the increased mortality caused by the war run as high as 400,000 to 940,000 by mid-2006 alone (Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy, Les Roberts, “Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: a cross-sectional cluster sample survey,” The Lancet, 11 October 2006);
•    The 2008 Global Burden of Armed Violence (GBAV) report estimated the average annual number of actual combat deaths (combatants and civilians) worldwide to be 52,000, or 1,000 per week. It also noted, however, that epidemiological studies suggest that combat deaths in the Congo alone could average 50,000 a year;
•    The GBAV report also estimated that some 200,000 people die annually due to the chaos and deprivation caused by war, with the toll in the Congo alone rising possibly as high as 400,000 per year;
•    The UN reports that, as of the end of 2009, 43.3 million people had been forcibly displaced (refugees and internally displaced) due to conflict, the highest number since the 1990s (2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returness, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 15 June 2010).

For more discussion of the issues surrounding estimates of the human cost of war, read Ernie’s full post.

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