@LancetGH looks at data collection on deaths from the war in #Syria

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The January 2018 issue of Lancet Global Health features an article (and associated commentary) on an analysis of civilian and combatant deaths using data from the Violations Documentation Center (VDC, which until now I didn't even know existed).
This study makes use of the systematic recording of violent deaths from the Syrian civil war by the Violation Documentation Center over 6 years of conflict to provide a systematic analysis of civilian and opposition combatant violent deaths, their demographic characteristics, the causative method or weapon, and spatial and temporal patterns of direct deaths during the conflict. We relate patterns and causes of death to possible violations of international humanitarian law.
The authors don't mince words - they are explicit in their conclusion that the results of the analysis indicate possible war crimes. Of course, pretty much everyone who still cares about Syria already knows that, but additional evidence never hurts - even if it will never make the UN move. What is particularly horrifying is the effect that the increasing use of aerial bombardment in general, and barrel bombs in particular, on civilian deaths - over a quarter of which were children.

Unfortunately, the VDC data only contains deaths that occurred in areas outside of government control (as “information on victims in government-controlled areas can be difficult to obtain”), so the analysis is geographically incomplete and does not include any deaths among Syrian government forces. But the data that is available is incredibly detailed and valuable:
Documentation of the health impact of war and conflict is one of the most difficult yet important public health challenges....Yet, the health and population impact of conflicts is dramatic and their effects long lasting. Any attempt to understand these events requires careful data collection and contemporaneous analysis to capture data that would otherwise be lost. Only through collection efforts such as those mounted by the VDC and analyses like the one presented by Guha-Sapir and colleagues can propel researchers and policymakers into recognising the true costs of current wars and the need to mitigate such consequences in the future.

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