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War Fatalities Three Times Higher than Acknowledged

By Jessica Berman
20 June 2008

Researchers say three times as many people have been killed in wars over the past 50 years than has been officially acknowledged. The conclusion is based on a new way to count the war dead by surveying their survivors. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

According to the new survey method, the researchers estimate that 5.4 million deaths occurred in wars between 1955 and 2002 in the 13 countries studied, which is three times more than previously estimated. The researchers say the Vietnam war alone claimed 3.8 million lives.

Ziad Obermeyer is a physician with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

"If you look across all countries that we looked at and across all years, the media number was about a third of what we found from all those numbers," said Ziad Obermeyer.

Obermeyer and colleagues have developed a way of counting the dead that is different traditional methods of basing the numbers largely on eye witnesses and media accounts. Those figures, the researchers say, are open to criticism for bias and inaccuracy.

Obermeyer says the model incorporates peacetime data gathered after the war has ended.

That information comes from the United Nation's World Health Surveys of families who have lost loved ones.

Obermeyer says incorporating peacetime data into official death estimates corrects undercounts and political biases that may exist in wars.

He says the model provides a more accurate historical record of the casualties of war.

"Those kinds of numbers are important for the military," he said. "They're important for politicians and they are important for the public that needs to know what the consequences of war are."

Obermeyer says it's important to have an official record because it contradicts the view that the number of civilian and combatant deaths is declining due to strategic and technological innovations.

The study on war deaths is published in the British Medical Journal.

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