“The world already believed Syria’s civil war to be monstrous, with nearly 45,000 slain,” reports todays Wired DangerRoom. “But when the United Nations plunged into the disparate databases cataloging the victims, it discovered there had been an awful oversight. The true death toll was more like 60,000 people, the data-mining operation revealed. And even that elevated total is likely to be low.
“The brutal truth is that no one really knows how many Syrians have died in dictator Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown: Warzone death estimates are notoriously imprecise. By its own admission, the death toll compiled by the human rights tech group Benetech, on behalf of the UN, is inaccurate. But its assessment has the virtue of specificity, a factor that preempts some of the doubts raised about mortality estimates in other warzones. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the study “a work in progress, not a final product.”
“Benetech’s report (.pdf), released on Wednesday, dives into databases of the dead compiled by six Syrian organizations — several of them tied to the rebellion, such as the Syrian Revolution General Council — and one by the Assad government. The firm sifted through over 147,000 records to identify and exclude duplicated mortality accounts. Only the “unique” accounts of “identifiable victims” fall into Benetech’s count. If the records don’t show someone’s name, date and location of death, Benetech doesn’t count it.
“That data sift leads to a more precise picture of the Syrian civil war than the rougher estimates previously on offer. Between March 2011 and November 2012, Benetch tallied 59,648 “unique killings.” Over 76 percent of them are male, 7.5 percent are female, and records 16.4 percent of them “do not indicate the sex of the victim,” Benetech reports. The highest concentration of the dead are found in Homs, rural Damascus, Idlib, Aleppo and Daraa. Benetech is more cautious about estimating patterns of ages for the dead, a stat that casualty-counters often use to make inferences about combatant casualties (on the presumption that “military-age males” in their 20s through early 40s are likely to fight), since it finds a “high proportion of missing age data” across the seven datasets. Other UN stats also show the war has produced over 478,000 refugees.
For more, see: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/01/syria-death-data/