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New study argues war deaths are often overestimated

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"Many years ago we went out and attempted to report to the world about an unfolding crisis in the Congo. We did it carefully, but as we described at the time, crudely, at great risk to life and limb, and at only a few percent of the cost of this Human Security Report," wrote Les Roberts, a collaborator on former HSR reports and IRC studies, in an open letter to the Center. "It is unbecoming to grab a headline a decade after by tearing down a study with erroneous speculation,"

Criticism of the new report

After the International Rescue Committee published its early findings of the DRC death toll, humanitarian aid to Congo increased 500 percent. Peacekeeping assistance followed, and today the DRC hosts the world’s largest peacekeeping mission, with more than 20,000 members.

The IRC conducted five mortality surveys in the country between 2000 and 2007. The limitations of those surveys, the IRC says, have always been clear.

“We’ve discussed those [limitations], we’ve published those, and I think there’s been generally agreement among many experts that they don’t invalidate our findings,” says Richard Brennan, who helped write the IRC’s last two surveys from Congo.

Dr. Brennan also questions the latest report’s own conclusions. “I think there are inconsistencies; there is cherry-picking of data; and they haven’t referenced other important reports that would counter what they’re saying,” he says.

In situations such as Congo, surveys strive to determine the number of people who, if there had never been a war, would probably be alive.
There’s never a single number, but rather a scale – which is necessarily based on problematic data.

“You start with the acknowledgment that there’s just not good population data during a conflict in most places,” says Harvard’s Dr. Greenough.

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