Syria’s death toll

The Syrian death toll creeps ever higher. A new report records that by the end of August, 113,735 civilians and combatants had lost their lives in the war. This figure includes 11,420 children aged 17 years and younger.

How accurate are these figures and how do we know? The Every Casualty campaign, launched in September two years ago by the Oxford Research Group, is dedicated to the idea that every casualty of war should be acknowledged, recognised and registered. The figures come from Stolen Futures, its study of the data gathered by five Syrian civil society organisations, all of which publish lists of the names of people who have died in the war. These are not abstract statistical estimates, in other words: this is an actual count of 113,735 named individuals.

We cannot know if this is the complete total. There are limitations in the data – for example, actual cause of death is not listed in all cases. But we can be reasonably sure the total is at least this high. Faking data is not impossible but the detailed nature of the reports means they are in principle verifiable, difficult though it would be to carry out that task in the midst of war. Further, some of the key work of combining the four sets of data into one was done by the people who are behind Iraq Body Count, a highly reputed and reliable gatherer of data on the death toll there since the US-led invasion in 2003.

The data are detailed enough that the whole can be broken down into some horribly unsettling components. Stolen Futures concentrates on child victims of the war – about 10 per cent of the total.

30 months – 11,420 children

Within the total of 11,420 children aged 17 years and younger:

  • Two-thirds were boys;
  • Explosive weapons killed about 70 per cent (7,557) of those whose cause of death is known;
  • Small-arms fire killed 2,806 children;
  • This total includes 764 who were summarily execution and 389 who were targeted and killed by snipers;
  • Among children killed by small arms, 79 were below the age of two;
  • The chemical weapons attacks in northern Damascus on 21 August 2013, which came close to triggering a missile attack on Syria, killed 128 children;
  • There are 112 cases of children being tortured and killed, including some who were infants;.

As I noted in my last article on Syria, hell is breaking loose and there is little sign that the war will end soon. Those who are stoking the fires from outside bear a heavy responsibility for contributing to subjecting children and adults to the inherent risks of war. Adding more firepower to the mix whether with missile strikes, drones or a major armed intervention will only make it worse. Stolen Futures rightly concludes with a look at options other than military intervention for bringing the Syrian conflict to an end. There may be little hope of short-term success but the effort must nonetheless be made to bring the fighters to the negotiating table. At some point it will pay off. It must.