London, June 20 : Wars around the globe killed three times more people over the past half-century than previously estimated, according to a new research.
What's more, there's no evidence to support claims of a recent decline in war deaths, the study adds.
Current survey-based techniques used to estimate violent war deaths have been criticized for their potential biases and inaccuracies. For instance, surveys estimating war mortality on the basis of household deaths, such as those recently done in Iraq, were alleged to be statistically invalid, and to incorporate politically motivated over-reporting of deaths.
But the alternative technique used during most ongoing conflicts including Iraq-passive data collection from eyewitnesses and media reports-is also subject to major biases, including the fact that high levels of war deaths occur in dangerous areas where eyewitnesses are least likely to go.
To overcome some of these biases, Ziad Obermeyer and colleagues from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, designed a new method of estimating violent war related deaths using data on the siblings of respondents in large household surveys conducted in peacetime.
According to the researchers, by comparing passive surveillance data of violent war deaths (mainly from eyewitnesses and the media) in 13 countries over the past 50 years, to peacetime data collected after conflicts in the UN's World Health Surveys, they were able to provide more accurate data on war deaths, reports the British Medical Journal.
They estimate that 5.4 million deaths occurred as a result of war in the 13 countries studied between 1955 and 2002, from 7000 in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 3.8 million in Vietnam.
The researchers point out that these estimates are on average three times higher than those obtained from previous reports. For example, they estimate that 378 000 people died a violent death as result of war each year between 1985 and 1994, compared to previous estimates of 137 000 people during this time.
Importantly, say the authors, these new data do not support the prevailing view that war deaths are declining and have been since the mid-twentieth century, or that recent wars have killed relatively few people thanks to technological and strategic innovations designed to minimise civilian deaths. In light of the substantial differences in estimates, conclude the authors, these claims need to be re-evaluated.
The study is published in the British Medical Journal.